Commentary: There is a Utah way to make a deal on immigration

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney meets with Weber County Commissioners in Ogden to discuss the longest government shutdown in history on Jan. 18.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Donald Trump once again painted a picture of immigration with a broad brush of fear, not facts.

But although partisanship is at an all-time high, a bipartisan deal on immigration remains within reach. Such a deal includes border security and provides certainty for law-abiding immigrants.

Utah’s senators can lead the way by reaching across the aisle.

As I visit Salt Lake City, I remain inspired by Utahns’ recognition that different sides can come to the table for a rational debate on immigration. It’s a sensibility that led to the Utah Compact in 2011 and has continued in the years since.

Utah’s senators can and should take up the mantle. Sen. Mitt Romney showed courage when he rightly disagreed with President Trump’s strategy to declare a national emergency over border wall funding. Sen. Mike Lee was originally part of the “Gang of Eight” which passed bipartisan immigration reform in 2013. (Lee ultimately pulled out of the gang and voted no, but he showed a willingness to work across the aisle.)

So, what would a bipartisan deal look like?

It would provide protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and other Dreamers who came to this country at a young age. We have had the pleasure of working with Bernardo Castro of Spanish Fork, brought to Utah when he was 4 and now a recent Brigham Young graduate in business management.

Bernardo has a job lined up with Pepsi-Cola, “but who knows how much of a career I can have with them?” he said to me recently. “It’s been really just an emotional roller coaster. You know, you never really know what to expect …. It’s very hard to plan your life when things are uncertain like this.”

Bernardo and other Dreamers like him are hardworking members of our society who want to realize the American dream. Utah is home to more than 9,000 DACA recipients, and eliminating uncertainty by giving them the opportunity to earn legal status and eventual citizenship would ensure they can remain positive contributors to Utah’s economy.

We also need to make sure the 2,600 immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in Utah can remain in the country. Without them, the Center for American Progress estimates that the state would lose $130.8 million in annual GDP.

TPS recipients are here because their countries are still trying to recover from disasters both natural and manmade. We can do better than kick out people who have started over put down roots and are contributing.

Finally, a deal would increase security at the U.S.-Mexico border. Real challenges demand our attention. Customs and Border Protection data show that in fiscal year 2018 through August, more than seven times as many illegal drugs were seized at ports of entry than between them. We need to incorporate new and improved technology, improve the existing border infrastructure, and add more personnel at ports of entry.

What we don’t need is a full-border wall.

A Gallup poll this week found that 60 percent of Americans oppose major new wall construction. Instead, Americans want smart border security.

Even though it feels like Democrats and Republicans stand on opposite sides of the immigration debate, there is reason for hope. Last year, the National Immigration Forum, the organization I run, held 26 “Living Room Conversations” nationwide to better understand rural and suburban voters’ views and anxieties regarding immigration.

We learned that while the debate is certainly complicated, it’s not without a solution. Most Americans are tired of polarization. With local leaders paving the way, there is an opportunity to unify around immigration and the deeply rooted value that out of many, we are one.

That’s the spirit of the Utah Compact. It’s the spirit of Utah’s institutions, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And it’s the spirit in which Lee and Romney should work with their colleagues from both parties to find immigration solutions that work for Utahns and for our nation.

Ali Noorani | The National Immigration Forum

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, spoke in Salt Lake City Thursday. He is host of the “Only in America” podcast and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration.”