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Alvarez & Loya: Utah and immigration reform

Published August 24, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Mark Alvarez

and Jesus loya

Three weeks ago at an immigration forum in West Valley City, a woman told her story: "I came to the U.S. without papers when I was 13. I went to school. Now I am 36 and have five children. I know I could be a good nurse. But I am too old to qualify for deferred action. Why can't I have some opportunity?"

A week later, Park City Mayor Dana Williams issued a statement that stressed the importance of a vibrant Latino community that comprises 25 percent of the city's population. While recognizing that most Latinos are citizens or documented immigrants, Williams was pleased that immigration reform with a path to citizenship was slowly gaining bipartisan support.

At an immigration forum in Park City, Summit County Councilman David Ure told a story of a Utah County fruit farmer. Outdated immigration laws had caused his production of cherries to drop from 15,000 crates to 3,000 crates last year.

Apart from the economic benefits, Ure suggested that immigration reform could reduce fraud, identity theft and tax evasion. He added that most people did not want to see families split apart.

Also in Park City, an undocumented immigrant who gave her name as Agripina said, "It is sad they treat us as scapegoats. We do the hardest work, but few recognize that. I have lived here for more than 20 years, and the only law I have broken is the immigration law. I tried to come legally, but I was unable to. I decided to sacrifice for my family. There is a saying in Spanish: 'The humbler the person, the more respect he should get.'"

Last week, FWD.us, an advocacy group organized by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and others to promote policies that will "keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy — including comprehensive immigration reform and education reform," held an immigration roundtable with Sen. Orrin Hatch in Lehi, a focal point of Utah's emergence in the tech sector. Panelists discussed the economic need for modernization of the immigration system.

FWD.us and executives from Utah-based tech companies praised Hatch for his crucial role in the Senate to shape and support immigration reform. They joined Hatch in underscoring the urgency of modernization that would allow businesses to overcome labor shortages and visas limitations.

The event was part of a national strategy by FWD.us that got underway earlier this month when Zuckerberg announced his support for comprehensive immigration reform.

In 2009, the Enriching Utah Coalition published a statement whose first point was: "Immigrants benefit Utah economically, culturally and socially." It went on to acknowledge federal authority over immigration and the need for humane, nondiscriminatory policies that respected families and human dignity.

A year later, the Utah Compact, a statement of principles for reforming immigration signed by business and religious organizations, echoed some of these themes.

The compact grew out of opposition to passage by the Utah Legislature of legislation patterned after Arizona's enforcement-only law and was widely praised for raising the quality of the conversation. Utahns demonstrated that a conservative state could support reform.

Wise policy recognizes immigration as an asset. Reform should enhance that potential for individual human beings, businesses and society.

This is not a time for timidity. Congress must press forward with comprehensive immigration reform, and Utah's delegation should be at the forefront.

Mark Alvarez is an attorney, immigration specialist for Telemundo Utah and host of "Sin Rodeos." Jesus Loya manages a network of 74 private investors, consults for entrepreneurs and advocates for immigration reform.