Utah conservative groups, leaders commit to moderate stance on immigration
Conservatives in Utah signed a pact last week promising to push for a moderate approach to immigration reform as a state lawmaker works on an Arizona-style immigration enforcement bill for the next session. The “Utah Compact” commits politicians and reform supporters to five broad priorities for immigration policy: allowing the federal government supersede states on immigration, maintaining police discretion, keeping families together, maintaining the workforce and integrating immigrants into society.
It also stands in direct contrast to a bill being written by state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R), who promised a bill similar to Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law for the next legislative session.
“Enforcement-only policies like an Arizona-style law are harmful,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said at a press conference on Nov. 11. “What we need is a fair, reasonable alternative. We need to incentivize people to become legal, and not drive them further underground. That is the only option for reasonable, rational, effective law enforcement.”
Former Republican governors Olene Walker and Norman Bangerter also signed onto the compact, along with the current mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. The Church of Latter Day Saints, the Catholic Diocese and the Sutherland Institute, which advocates limited government, also agreed to the pledge.
Utah is interesting to watch as immigration hardliners push for state legislation because some of its policies toward illegal immigrants can be considered friendly. The state is one of three that allows undocumented immigrants to drive, and high-level Republicans have come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has said he wants to see an immigration bill that would address guest workers and employment as well as enforcement. This contrasts with Republican governors from a number of other states who have spoken out in support of strict enforcement-only laws in their states.
Utah’s demographics may be part of the reason for the state’s complicated relationship with immigration. Nearly 12 percent of Utah’s population is Latino, according to 2008 census data. Beyond that, the politically powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which counts many Utah residents among its members, has generally been moderate on immigration. While most members of the church are politically conservative, the church is reportedly torn between a majority who favor compassion to illegal immigrants and some members of the leadership who prefer stricter enforcement.
The church’s support for the “Utah Compact” puts it squarely on the pro-reform, rather than pro-enforcement, side of the issue. After the church announced its position on Nov. 11, Sandstrom said the church should stay out of the debate over immigration policy. “I kind of wish I’d been given more of a heads-up because it is taking aim at the bill I’m doing,” Sandstrom told the Salt Lake Tribune. “My other thought was that I thought the church’s no-position was the best way to go and to let this be the purview of government.”