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How Utah can lead

Published November 12, 2012 5:19 pm

Time to bring out the Utah Compact
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The flow of votes in last week's presidential election showed a Utah in retrograde. Mitt Romney lost the nation but won a higher percentage of the vote here — 73 percent — than he did in any other state.

But as the other results of the election are considered, there is an area where Utah can provide some much-needed leadership. And that is the issue of immigration reform.

The Utah Compact, a statement of principles adopted by the state's political, civic, business and religious leaders two years ago this week, has outlined a humane, sensible path for the nation to address this issue.

The compact stresses the belief that immigration is, by law and by practicality, a federal issue, not something to be addressed at the state level. It argues that local law enforcement agencies should not be burdened with immigration enforcement. It abhors any action that breaks up families as it favors a free market and a free society.

If Romney had adopted such an approach to the issue, rather than promising to make life for illegal immigrants so unpleasant that they would "self-deport," he might have at least had a chance with the Latino voters. Instead, he lost 71 percent of them to President Obama, many in such crucial swing states as Colorado and Florida.

Those same exit polls, meanwhile, show 65 percent of the national electorate favoring the creation of a legal path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants who now live here. Republican office-holders and conservative commentators have heard that message and now say they back reforms.

The election results mean that Utah politicians could again lead out on this issue. Newly re-elected Sen. Orrin Hatch, for example, was once a champion of the DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided a route to legal residency and citizenship for immigrants, brought here illegally as children, who go to college or join the armed forces. In the wake of last week's balloting, he should be behind that bill again.

One thing politicians of any stripe should not be allowed to do is push the issue aside until, as both Republicans and Democrats say all too often, "our borders are secure."

Our borders, where the number of agents has more than doubled since 2004, are about as secure as any free nation's are likely to be. Awaiting perfection on that score before dealing with other issues is a smokescreen that neither party should be allowed to hide behind.

Real reform, legalizing the status of workers and acceptance of the millions of who have known no other home, is one thing that, suddenly, everyone in politics seems to be for.

They must act, before this feeling wears off.