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‘Utah Solution' on immigration draws national attention

By John Daley | Posted - Mar. 13, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- What's been dubbed the "Utah Solution" on immigration is generating national attention.

Two factors helped shape the path state lawmakers pursued -- one was the controversy generated by a get-tough law Arizona passed last year, the other was the Utah Compact, which endorsed a pragmatic approach.


I think that the nation is going to say maybe more than 'Let's not go to Utah because of what they did, let's go to Utah and see what they're doing.'

–Senate President Michael Waddoups


Last year, Arizona enacted the toughest illegal immigration legislation in the nation -- a law aimed at identifying and deporting undocumented foreigners, sparking protests and legal challenges. As Utah lawmakers debated immigration, Arizona loomed large.

Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups says Arizona's law cost it some future conventions, which decided to go elsewhere.

"I think that the nation is going to say maybe more than 'Let's not go to Utah because of what they did, let's go to Utah and see what they're doing,'" he said.

An alternative path emerged last fall when a coalition of community and religious leaders unveiled the Utah Compact, which called for a federal solution, for local law enforcement to focus on crime, and for Utah to seek a humane approach which reaffirmed Utah's reputation as a welcoming, business-friendly state.


I think the state of Utah being out there nationally is probably going to push the federal government to do something.

–Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City


"It's been a game changer," said Wesley Smith, the director of public policy for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "The Utah Compact finally gave a voice to the silent majority."

Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute agrees that the compact was essential to changing the general tone of the immigration debate.

"I think without the compact there wouldn't have been a change in the dialogue and a change in public opinion," he said.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, hopes the spirit of the compact prompts action in Washington, D.C.

"I think the state of Utah being out there nationally is probably going to push the federal government to do something," she said.

Lawmakers ended up passing both an enforcement bill and a guest worker program which allows the state to issue work permits to undocumented immigrants who undergo a criminal background check, pay fines of up to $2,500 and learn English.


The bill has too many flaws in it. It's constitutionally flawed. It allows people who are here illegally and committing crimes to get a worker permit.

–Ron Mortensen


But not everyone likes the compromise. Conservative GOP delegates urged the governor to veto the guest worker bill, arguing it amounts to amnesty, and advocating repeal.

"It's not over. It's just starting," said Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka.

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration says the bill ineffective in the big picture.

"The bill has too many flaws in it. It's constitutionally flawed," he said. "It allows people who are here illegally and committing crimes to get a worker permit."

The "Utah Solution" is now drawing national attention, with coverage in the New York and LA Times, Wall Street Journal and U.S. Today.

Rep. David Litvack (D) House Minority Leader "Arizona showed us where we don't want to be," said House Minority Leader David Litvack. "The Utah Compact showed us some vision of where we could be."

The various immigration bills that passed this session await the governor's signature. He hasn't announced his plans yet, but on Capitol Hill it's widely expected he will sign them.

Meantime, just like in Arizona, Utah's law is expected to be challenged in court.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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