In the fall of 2010, The Utah Compact was released to the public. Widely regarded as a groundbreaking agreement between Utah’s Latino, business, religious, and political communities, it is designed to provide a road map for what immigration policy should (and should not) look like in the state of Utah. More specifically, The Compact was in direct response to an upcoming bill proposal from (now former) state representative Stephen Sandstrom, HB 70, an Arizona-style immigration bill that was panned by the public and eventually died in the 2011 legislative session.
To paraphrase The Compact’s five simple tenants:
1) The solution to the immigration issue is, fundamentally, a federal issue.
2) Law enforcement should focus on criminal activity, not civil violations of federal law.
3) Maintaining a family is more important than unnecessarily dismantling them.
4) Immigrants play a vital role in our economy, and welcoming immigrants welcomes prosperity.
5) We must be realistic and humane in how we approach immigration issues.
The Utah Compact, however, is not law – it is not even considered the general policy of the State of Utah. After the failure of HB 70, former Representative Sandstrom introduced a slightly watered down version of the same bill, this time titled HB 497, which successfully passed in 2011. Also making it through the legislature that year was HB 116 from former-Representative Bill Wright and Senator Stuart Reid, commonly known as the Guest Worker Law. HB 116 follows more closely to the principles of the Utah Compact, offering undocumented workers the possibility of attaining work visas if they voluntarily give their names to the state, submit to background checks, and pay a hefty fine.
However, even with those two ideologically opposed laws on the books, the Utah State Legislature has remained officially silent on the Utah Compact itself, neither officially accepting or rejecting its guiding principles. Last year, both House and Senate majority leadership refused to allow any immigration bills see the light of day – widely seen as a move designed to both prevent controversy while most were running for reelection, and to keep Utah immigration policy out of the national media spotlight during Mitt Romney’s presidential run. But for the 2013 session, all bets are back on the table, with the more extreme end of the Republican party calling for a complete repeal of the Guest Worker law and implementing Arizona-style enforcement. With all parties watching closely, it was only a matter of time until someone pulled the trigger on the first shot.
Representative Lynn Hemingway (Democrat, SLC, District 40) has launched the opening immigration debate salvo with HJR 1 – Joint Resolution Expressing Support for the Utah Compact.
To put it simply, HJR 1 would formally declare that the Utah State Legislature supports the Utah Compact and the principals within it and, at least in theory, set the general policy of the Utah State Legislature when approaching immigration issues.
In past years, the success of such a resolution would have been a mere pipe-dream, but with a large (and potentially more moderate) freshman class entering the legislature this session, it is possible that this resolution could get some traction. This fact, combined with the numerous political, religious, and social figures currently supporting the Utah Compact, and the fact that The Compact is not in itself immigration policy, but rather a set of principles – this resolution has a shot of actually making it through.
The Utah Compact would serve the state as a solid foundation with which to build immigration policy; it is both reasonable and forward thinking. The Legislature would serve itself well to adopt this resolution. Here at UPC, we’re ranking HJR 1 as high as we can (overall) because we believe that the topic of immigration needs to always be handled with respect, and with an understanding of the real lives and families any decision will directly impact. We applaud Representative Hemingway for taking the initiative, not to alter any laws, but for setting the proper tone for the discussion.