Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
Attorney general Mark Shurtleff expresses his support of the Utah Compact during a ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the document, at This Is The Place State Park in Salt Lake City Friday, November 11, 2011

The New York Times highlighted Utah's unique approach to illegal immigration this week with a profile of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

On points like health care, states' rights and abortion, Shurtleff takes a classic conservative stance. But while the loudest Republican voices advocate for cracking down on illegal immigrants, Shurtleff espouses a more merciful approach.

In this regard, Times writer Julia Preston called Shurtleff "the most prominent politician among an emerging generation of Republicans trying to stake out an alternative to restrictionist immigration laws modeled on Arizona's."

"It's only the loud, shrill voices we've been hearing," Shurtleff told the Times. "But I believe the majority of Republicans aren't this shrill anti-immigration, punish-'em-at-all-costs kind of mentality."

When Utah legislators moved to follow in Arizona's footsteps in 2010 by proposing laws requiring that state police enforce immigration laws, Shurtleff was vocal in his opposition. He helped draft the Utah Compact, a five-point statement of principles that stressed the importance of balancing law enforcement with keeping families together and acknowledging the economic role immigrants play.

The compact was key to the passage of a Utah law that enables illegal immigrants who pass a background check and pay a fine to obtain work permits. Immigrant advocates have said they believe the compact was also influential in the 2011 recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, author of the state's hard-line immigration laws.

Hoping to spread the word about Utah's approach, Shurtleff has spoken at law-enforcement conventions, organized regional strategy sessions and counseled lawmakers from other states. He even took on Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a leading restrictionist organization, in a heated talk radio debate.