Is immigration a solution looking for a problem?

According to a recent Dan Jones poll, most Utahns want a solution to the problem of illegal immigration but are not sure what it should be. Everyone has a solution, yet no one has defined the problem, or what the solution should look like. Solutions should correspond to the problem. So, what's the problem and how will success be determined?

If tomorrow all illegal immigrants disappeared, would the problems we blame on them go away or become worse? Would we have more jobs? Would our faltering economy get better? Would crime be reduced? Would health care be more available, affordable? Would our education system improve? would our public services be more available to citizens, and would our tax base improve?

Soon, we might be paying $4 a gallon at the gas pump, and food costs are skyrocketing; so what are our lawmakers now doing? They're trying to raise the food tax. How understanding and compassionate is that when we have more families in poverty, high unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, and more homes with two parents working to make ends meet? On top of that we want to get rid of all the illegal immigrant workers who pick our vegetables and fruit, work the slaughterhouses, turkey and dairy farms, clean our homes, and keep the hospitality industry competitive. If they are gone, would local people be eager to take those jobs? Sure, and banks won't have to stay in business to transfer money to foreign countries.

It's not surprising the Dan Jones poll showed people don't know what the solution should be to what ails us. Lawmakers are dealing with symptoms. Some are quick to exploit the pain by offering off-the-shelf solutions and bumper-sticker slogans — the "rule of law," "first, protect the border," "round em up," then what? Gov. Gary Herbert is trying to build consensus around some principles, including that the U.S. government should enforce and draft meaningful immigration policy, that businesses should be held accountable in complying with the law, that the humanity of all people should be respected, and that we should not expect our taxpayers to bear the financial burden. Will he stick with those principles when lawmakers bring bills for him to sign?

We need leaders who can lead instead of waiting for polls to follow; who understand what forces drive our environment and can articulate a vision of what ought to be done to seek long-range solutions. America has always used immigrant labor as a way of bolstering our economy. However, in tough economic times it becomes an easy target to blame, and some politicians are ready to exacerbate it for their political gain. We need leaders who can bring our communities together by helping us understand what is affecting our way of life, and allaying the anxiety people have about our future. It's the economy that's the problem and needs fixing.

Utah legislators are rushing, trying to come up with a "Utah solution." So far, these don't seem to reconcile with the governor's principles or the economic and labor problems the state faces. They appear punitive, lack humanity and are costly. State leaders ought to stop blaming immigrants and the faceless federal government and demand our U.S. elected leaders renew our immigration policies that reflect today's social and economic global realities. Suggest they start with realistic visa processing, on-time responses to labor demands, identify who is in our country and find ways to discourage employers from breaking existing employment laws.

The easy part is to hastily put together temporary state fixes; the courageous thing would be to demand our congressional delegation revise national immigration policies instead of passing the buck to the states.

A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: