"Don't Call Us Arizona"

Hello TAPPED readers! I'm a contributing writer to the Feet in 2 Worlds project, a public radio and new media initiative that tells the stories of today's immigrants through the eyes of ethnic media reporters who have unique insight and access to those communities. I'll be guest-blogging here for the week, but you can normally find my blogging at Feet in 2 Worlds.

In the immigration debate, Utah seeks to distance itself from Arizona despite passing a bill Friday that, on the surface, resembles Arizona's controversial SB 1070. Utah's law makes it permissible for law enforcement officers to inquire about immigration status during routine police checks, stops, or arrests. The Utah "Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act" has all the trappings of a nativist push in one of the nation's whitest states, but lawmakers stressed that the new bill took away language that made it appear as if they were endorsing racial profiling and said that the bill was being passed in conjunction with a guest-worker bill. 

So why does Utah appear to be a shrinking violet when it comes to taking a stand on immigration?

Gov. Gary Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune:

Obviously, as the chief cheerleader of the state, I care about image, I care about the perception people have about Utah. The image issue is certainly one that is worth considering... I think [the bill] has no impact really negative on our state at all.

Utah's desire to distance itself from Arizona is a good thing, and a reflection that public sentiment weighs against a state taking such punitive measures toward the undocumented. It also speaks to the larger power of the Latino community, which, according to the last census, is growing and increasing in influence, both as consumers and a political bloc.

Already, a Latino immigration-reform activist in Utah has called on the government of Mexico to ban Mormon missionaries as a punitive measure. The Church of Latter Day Saints is growing in Latin America, making the dilemma for Utah more unique than for, say, Montana or Wyoming. But any state taking up immigration bills will now have to grapple with whether the bill tarnishes or helps its image. Keeping that in mind may actually help pro-immigration reform activists as they seek to lobby against harsh immigration laws.