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Immigration debate of 2011 to extend into new year

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Dec. 26, 2011 at 5:33 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Throughout the year, the immigration debate was framed by two sometimes-conflicting worries. One worry was a simple fact: millions have crossed the border illegally. The other worry: those millions who crossed the border are human beings with families.

"We are not made a better country by deporting people who play by the rules, who are grandparents, who have been here forever," said Rep. Chris Herrod, (R) Provo.

Immigration, specifically undocumented immigration, became one of the thorniest problems of 2011. As Utah tried to handle the issue on a state level, some twists and turns assured it will haunt us again in 2012.

"The federal government has not done its job. The question becomes, can we do something to enforce the law?" Herrod said.

In 2010, Utah opinion leaders forged a compromise approach known as the Utah Compact. In 2011, lawmakers and the Governor produced legislation based on the compact.

"Utah is doing the right thing. It's doing the hard thing," said Gov. Gary Herbert. "The easiest thing to do would be to do nothing."

The basic approach was tougher enforcement, coupled with a guest worker program and other features to give non- citizens a chance to earn a living. Presiding Bishop H. David Burton of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints signaled approval.

"Our presence here testifies to the fact that we're appreciative of what has happened in the legislature," Burton said.

But controversy was immediate. A petition drive was organized to repeal parts of it, and many contended the law usurped federal authority.

"Our feelings were that it was an unconstitutional law." Theresa Martinez, U. of U. Sociology Professor:

Some lawmakers felt that their actions reflected the desires of the state's citizens.

"The majority of Utahns want something done, and that's why we passed the legislation," said Herrod.

Late in the year, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to overturn the legislation, leaving its future uncertain.

Email:jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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