Derek Miller: Building an immigration consensus for America

The Utah Compact sets out principles for fixing our immigration system.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City business and civic leaders gathered Thursday to reaffirm the principles of The Utah Compact, initially adopted in 2010. The compact emphasizes humane treatment of immigrants, keeping families together and focusing deportation on serious criminals.

You have likely heard the phrase that our immigration system is broken. This understates the problem. It is more than just broken. It is upside down and backwards.

On one hand, the nation lacks a secure border to keep bad actors out. On the other hand, we don’t have an efficient system to allow the good actors legally in. Business has a responsible role to play in the formulation of a fair policy that can meet the needs of those seeking opportunity and our need for orderly entry.

Utah has taken a sensible and principled approach to this challenge for over a decade. The Utah Compact was originally conceived in November of 2010 and reaffirmed in March, 2019. The compact points our focus to five principles I believe should not only guide Utah’s discussion but our national conversation as border violence surges and human trafficking exploits the issue. I believe these five principles should be the focus and order guiding the topic to ensure we act deliberately and humanely to those seeking the promise of America.

These guiding principles include:

  • Federal Solutions: Immigration is a federal policy;

  • Law Enforcement: Respect the rule of law and support law enforcement in doing their job;

  • Family Cohesion: Strong families make up successful societies, support policies that strengthen their success;

  • Economy: A free-market approach often yields the best outcome. Immigrants are key contributors to our workforce and we must be welcoming to those seeking opportunity;

  • A Free Society: Immigrants are valuable partners in our communities and help enrich our nation and state, we should welcome people of goodwill.

The Salt Lake Chamber urges Congress to fix our broken immigration system in a manner consistent with the Utah Compact. We call upon Utah’s federal delegation to lead efforts on securing our border, strengthening the family as a fundamental unit in society, to support growing our economy and to focus law enforcement efforts on serious crimes. These guidelines uphold our values as a free society and send a statement to the world.

The United States should always be a place that welcomes honest seekers of opportunity with laws that reflect our immigration heritage. There is no excuse for delay, immigration reform and border security should be part of any infrastructure bill signed by the president.

Utah, as part of the intermountain region, is leading the nation in economic opportunity for her citizens. This accolade did not happen by accident and it comes with the challenge of growth. Unemployment in Utah is back at 3.0% and many businesses are sharing they are having a hard time finding employees. This is part of the misaligned unemployment provision from the pandemic, but we are still short on labor. As one example, Hispanic immigrants make up a substantial piece of our construction and manufacturing industry. They are critical to our economic success by building homes and businesses.

Utah’s immigrant population also includes DACA recipients or “Dreamers” who live in legal limbo because of an ongoing game of political hot potato. This gamesmanship is cruel and, as with any relationship built on one-upmanship, nobody wins.

These are people raising families, playing sports, attending schools and of course contributing to our economic dynamism. An outstanding example locally of Latino contributors is David Ibarra, who has been active in the state and Salt Lake community for decades. David embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and service along with giving through investing in latinos where he does business.

Immigrants in Utah are essential to our social fabric and contribute to our shared prosperity. They deserve a compassionate solution and we must continue to demand Congress stop using them as political chips on the legislative table.

I call on our national leaders to stop playing games at the border and solve this problem before another generation of youth have no legal home or hope.

Derek Miller

Derek Miller is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.