Written by: Peter Ashman, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee
Recently in Salt Lake City, Utah, a diverse group of government and business leaders held a press conference to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Utah Compact. The compact was the result of a collaboration of business, religious and elected leaders in Utah to articulate a broad statement of shared values designed to guide decision makers “as they address the complex challenges associated with a broken national immigration system.”
What is significant about the Compact is that Utah has a legacy as one of the most conservative states in America and in recent years turned out incumbent Senator Bennett and Congressman Cannon for being “soft” on immigration. Yet the Compact resonates with a pragmatic tone that sounds nostalgically Reganesque in its lofty aspirations of keeping families together and acknowledging the economic contributions of immigrants. It acknowledges that immigration is a federal, not state, issue and that “local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.” The Compact concludes with “[t]he way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.” The full text of the Utah Compact is available here.
One year after the Compact was written it is being credited for changing the tone of the immigration debate not only in Utah, but in the entire country. At the press conference was recently elected Arizona State Senator Jerry Lewis, who ousted S.B. 1070 architect and restrictionist poster child, Russell Pearce. Senator Lewis credited the Utah Compact with having an impact on Arizona politics, including his election over fellow conservative Republican Pearce, and cited an Arizona poll with 78% of Arizonans supporting comprehensive solutions of immigration laws, not just the “enforcement only” policies of S.B. 1070. Utah’s Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, a self described conservative Republican, indicated that in the past year the Compact has received the support of conservatives who want real solutions and not just harsh rhetoric. He pointed to the election of Lewis as an example, and warned against pandering to the far right extremists.
So as we watch our current crop of presidential candidates talk about electrical fences and boots on the ground, and as Alabama’s agricultural bounty spoils unpicked in the field, a new voice is being heard. It appeals to all political views because its values are apolitical and universal. It is a growing voice that speaks of moderation, and inclusion and reminds us of our heritage as a nation of immigrants. It is a voice that is coming from, of all places, Utah.