Mormon Church, Business Leaders Endorse Utah Compact for Immigration Reform

Utah state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom’s argument that there is “popular support for Arizona’s controversial legislation [SB 1070]” just got a little thinner. A number of state and local governments, corporations, businesses, community and faith groups recently signed the Utah Compact—a declaration of five principles created “to guide Utah’s immigration discussion.” The guidelines are a far cry from Rep. Sandstrom Arizona-like bill (the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act), a bill which would require Utah police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is undocumented. The broad support for the compact, which includes groups as large as the Mormon Church, already has some people writing the obituary for Sandstrom’s bill. While Sandstrom isn’t ready to back down yet, the bigger question is whether Utah lawmakers will listen to such a wide and growing demand for a federal immigration overhaul.

The five principles of the Utah Compact acknowledge that 1) immigration is a federal policy issue 2) local law enforcement should go after dangerous criminals 3) family immigration is important 4) immigrants add to the local economy and that 5) Utah should welcome immigrants. The wide range of supporters endorsing these principles include the Salt Lake Chamber, Former U.S. Senator Jake Garn, Former Governor Olene Walker, the Utah Attorney General, the Deseret News and numerous religious groups, such as the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Although not an official signer, LDS endorsed the compact with a statement of support:

The church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand.

According to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, “local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.” Similarly, Catholic Bishop John Wester also argued that immigration is a federal issue and called Sandstrom’s bill “oppressive” and “Draconian.”

Sandstrom, however, seems to be ignoring the message, commenting that his enforcement bill will be ready by the beginning of the session (January 24, 2011) and that the people of Utah are behind this bill. While some critics are calling for a moratorium of Sandstrom’s bill pending the outcome of Arizona’s immigration court battle, others, like director of the Sutherland Institute Paul Mero are pronouncing the bill “DOA.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Sandstrom has ignored concerns over his immigration bill. Last month, both Democratic and Republicans in Utah likened it to a “witch hunt” and cited possible economic backlash. Utah Democratic senator Luz Robles said the bill is “fiscally irresponsible” and worries, like many other state legislators, that the bill would be too costly if passed. Earlier this month, a panel from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision to require the City of Hazelton, PA, to pay $2.4 million in legal fees to the Plaintiffs instead of their insurance carrier when Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of Hazleton’s immigration law, which was recently struck down again in the district courts. Likewise, Farmers Branch, Texas, Fremont, Nebraska and Arizona are also being forced to run costly damage control.

Hopefully, state legislators will listen to the voices of Utah’s faith and business leaders and consider not only the economic fallout of states who have tried to implement immigration enforcement laws in the past, but the legislation’s harmful impact on Utah’s community.

Photo by Josh Brown.

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