A Surprising Leader in the Immigration Movement

In the power vacuum created by a lack of federal immigration law, states are going one of two ways: Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, and others are focusing on stricter enforcement of immigration law while New York, Maryland, and California have carved out a path for undocumented children to receive a college education. In the midst of all this legislation, a surprising leader has emerged as a model for "moderate" immigration reform: Utah.

I wrote last month about how Utah had worried about the national reaction to Arizona's tough anti-immigration bill SB 1070, and thus passed a softer immigration bill. That bill had the support of the Church of Latter Day Saints, which is expanding rapidly in South and Central America. Now, "The Utah Compact" provides a set of guiding principles for what the debate on immigration should look like: Families should not be separated and federal enforcement should focus on those who engage in criminal activities -- not violations of civil code.

The Compact has the endorsement of a variety of agencies from the Catholic diocese to the attorney general's office, and it also has the support of various business groups. In a nod to the reality of the immigration situation in the United States, the document states that immigrants are a necessary part of our economy -- something that we don't often hear from immigration opponents. Indiana has mirrored Utah with a compact of its own, supported by the state's Catholic diocese and its business community.

The fact that this is coming from both a conservative and very religious state says something to me in terms of how the future debate on immigration could be framed. Business leaders want a path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, and churches like the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic Church have spoken in favor of reasonable and humane immigration policies. If these voices should come together and/or grow louder, the potential for a change in tone regarding immigration could exist. And with that change in tone may come the opening for more flexible and inclusive immigration reform.