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SALT LAKE CITY -- Considering how much national attention Utah's recent immigration legislation has received, I was half-expecting President Barack Obama to make some reference to it in his address on federal immigration policy. While there was no direct reference, there was a sentence or two that makes one wonder whether Utah's approach to the issue is indeed on the President's radar.
The speech was billed as an address to outline a call for federal policy initiatives. Overall, it was decidedly light on specifics, with some critical policy areas getting no mention at all. Will the feds sue Utah and other states for usurping federal authority by writing their own immigration laws? Or, will it consider granting waivers for certain state laws to take effect? No hint one way or another.
The President did pledge to resurrect the DREAM Act and push for its passage, and he made vague reference to the need to reform the labyrinth of laws that govern just how someone legally becomes a U.S. citizen.
He spoke about his commitment to securing the border and punishing businesses which recruit and exploit illegal immigrants, but he devoted only a single specific sentence to just how to deal with those 11 million illegal immigrants already here, and the wording may sound more than a little familiar to those who have followed Utah's immigration debate:
"Third, those who are here illegally have a responsibility as well. They have to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English. And they have to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization."
It is essentially a 48-word synopsis of the premise of Utah's guest worker bill, which, ironically, would require a waiver from the Obama Administration to take effect. It sounds as if the President appreciates the concept, which begs the question of why not see how it works in Utah while Congress grapples with the issue on the federal level? ("Grapple" defined in this context as "giving great lip service but taking no fundamental action.")
Face it, "comprehensive immigration reform," as the President calls it, will not proceed from the current Congress - there is way too much division over too many particulars, especially those seen by conservatives as "pathways to amnesty."
The opportunity to oversee a controlled laboratory experiment of sorts in Utah probably ought to be in the mix of potential policy initiatives, assuming the substantial constitutional and procedural concerns can be addressed.
But, in a speech about comprehensive reform that was less than comprehensive, there was no hint, glimmer or indication. Which may mean the door is still open. Or not.