From the bowels of hard-right Utah County, where the tea party thrives, anti-federal government resolutions are born and immigration reform ideas provoke hostile talk of rebellion, a state senator has taken a leading role in the fostering of bipartisan negotiations to pass an immigration bill that contains a path to citizenship.
And he is doing it as a representative of the most prominent organization of state legislators that wants the federal government to take the lead so the states can more efficiently deal with immigration problems that arise on their home turfs.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was in Washington, D.C., during the past week as immigration reform legislation headed for a showdown on the Senate floor. He joined with Democrat Mo Denis, the Senate Majority Leader in Nevada, to push the agenda of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which wants a comprehensive, bi-partisan solution to a problem the county has struggled with for decades.
Bramble and Denis, who were appointed to the NCSL's Immigration Task Force in 2005, have met over the past few days with the senior staffs of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.; and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
They also were invited to the White House to share their ideas with advisors to President Barack Obama.
Bramble joked in an interview that he has met recently with so many Democrats that he may not be allowed to return to Utah County, a hotbed of anti-reform movements that include a path to citizenship for those currently in the country illegally.
The Utah County Republican Central Committee and the county GOP's convention delegates have been clear with their resolutions they are opposed to just about anything short of deportation for immigrants in the country without proper documentation.
But Bramble and House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, have weathered the angst from that right-wing base in the county after they pushed through a state I.D. card for undocumented immigrants in 2005 that since has been used as a model for other states, including Nevada that passed similar legislation just recently.
They also survived stiff opposition from many of their fellow conservatives to pass the controversial HB116, which, contingent on a federal waiver, would include a state-run guest-worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants to continue employment in Utah.
Meanwhile, most of the Utah legislators aligned with the self-described Patrick Henry Caucus that stridently criticized any type of leniency are no longer in the Legislature.
A recent poll shows that Utah is one of 29 states whose majority favors bipartisan immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
The NCSL principles presented to congressional leaders by Bramble and Denis include strong border security, federal grants to states for the impact of assimilating undocumented residents coming out of the shadows and for incarcerating those in state and county jails, the federal government taking responsibility for enforcement of immigration law and a tough but fair "earned legalization program."
Any success in passing comprehensive reform requires bipartisan cooperation, Bramble said. The "gang of eight" that put together the reform legislation had four Republicans and four Democrats and the NCSL task force on immigration had an equal amount of Democrats and Republicans.
"There is an ongoing dialogue and there appears to be some inertia," Bramble said of negotiations in the Senate. "But I sense there is a desire by both sides to get something done on immigration."