Why Gov. Spencer Cox wants to sponsor immigrants to come work in Utah

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, the Republican governor called on Congress to reform immigration policy.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Participants gather on the steps of the Capitol, for the national Day Without Immigrants rally, on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Gov. Spencer Cox wrote that he supports a proposal that would allow states to sponsor immigrants.

If it were up to Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah would be able to sponsor immigrants who would fill the state’s more than 100,000 open jobs. But because it’s not, he is calling on Congress to end an impasse on immigration reform, he wrote in The Washington Post on Tuesday.

Teaming up with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Republican governors wrote that the proposal to allow states to sponsor immigrants is a good compromise between two sides — one which they characterized as overlooking immigration’s impact on border states while encouraging too many to make the dangerous journey, and another that views immigrants as a burden.

“To help us do our jobs as governors, we call on Congress to end its two-decade standoff on setting immigration policy — one of its most basic duties,” the op-ed reads. “And, as leaders of states, we pledge to share the accountability. Though border security is a national concern, and a nonnegotiable requirement of national security in a world with drug cartels and terrorists, we believe that states should be able to sponsor whatever immigrants serve the needs of their communities.”

The idea that states sponsor immigrants was previously put forward by Republican Rep. John Curtis, of Utah, in 2019. It was supported by Utah’s then-Gov. Gary Herbert, too.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox holds a monthly news conference in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.

That bill never made it past being introduced and didn’t attract any cosponsors.

A sponsorship program likely would be similar to those already extended to universities and employers, but states would be deciding which people it would offer sponsorship to. Consequently, immigrant workers who come through such sponsorship programs would not be tied to one employer, protecting them from employers who might take advantage of immigrants with deportation threats.

Proponents also argue that it would relieve immigration pressure on border states, and allow other states to share in the responsibility of solving the crisis at the border.

People on both sides of the aisle, though, have some concerns about allowing state-sponsored immigration. On the right, some don’t like that it would decrease job availability and say increasing immigration poses a risk to national security. From the left, there are worries that giving this power to states could result in race- or religion-based discrimination.

Utah is one of 20 states that is suing President Joe Biden’s administration over a policy that creates a parole program for people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who are fleeing humanitarian crises to enter the U.S. The Utah Attorney General’s office wrote in a press release that its opposition to the program is grounded in Biden circumventing congressional power to act on immigration, and that it “severely relaxes ... qualification requirements” for those coming into the country.

“Utah is not immune from the impact of increased illegal immigration,” wrote Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office in a news release.

Cox has attracted attention for his views on immigration since before he was governor. In 2018, he wrote in a Twitter thread that immigrant children being separated from their parents made him “want to punch someone.” The Republican’s criticism of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policy was covered internationally.

At his monthly news conference last week, Cox said he had the opportunity to ask Biden a question about “the importance of securing the border as well as fixing illegal immigration” at a National Governors Association meeting earlier in February.

Cox praised parts of the administration’s policies, but, mentioning his op-ed with Holcomb, said there is more to fix as the emergency order allowing for immigrant expulsion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic may come to a close — pending a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’d love to get away from the lawsuits,” Cox said at the news conference. “But until we get people working together and broader consensus on that, some of this will play out in the courts.”