Tribune editorial: Cox and friends are wrong to turn their backs on Utah’s tradition of humane immigration policy

Listen instead to Utah leaders who know immigrants are not to blame for home-grown problems.

(Eric Gay | AP) Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, far left, stands behind Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, seated center, who is joined by fellow governors during a press conference along the Rio Grande to discuss Operation Lone Star and border concerns, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

It was not quite a year ago that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox joined with another Republican governor — Eric Holcomb of Indiana — in calling for a more humane and effective policy that would legally welcome more hard-working immigrants to the United States.

In a commentary published in The Washington Post, the two GOP leaders correctly said that their states are in serious need of more workers. They reasonably argued that giving states the ability to sponsor immigrants to fill those openings would boost their local economies as it did something to make up for the federal government’s inability to deal with the ongoing immigration crisis.

It was not a call for open borders. It was a proposal to allow, within a legal structure Congress would have to create, more opportunity for highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs and farm and construction laborers to come legally to America.

As we know, nothing happened. But why were Cox and Holcomb looking to immigrants to meet their states’ needs?

“The United States became prosperous because many immigrants saw our beacon and seized the freedoms and opportunities offered here,” they wrote. “That formula has not changed.”

A week ago, Cox, or someone who looks very much like him, joined with another Republican governor — Greg Abbott of Texas — in a virtue-signaling stunt at the Texas-Mexico border designed to rile up an already tense situation.

(Who does the governor think he is? Sean Reyes?)

There, they and 14 other Republican governors basically called for a militarization of the frontier and defiance of the federal government’s clear constitutional authority over immigration matters.

By making this pointless expedition to Texas in the midst of Utah’s intense, not-a-moment-to-lose, 45-day legislative session, Cox and Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz distracted themselves — and, worse, distracted Utah voters — from the work the Legislature is or is not doing.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams went so far Wednesday as to recommend that Cox send Utah National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border if Abbott seeks such help.

The Abbott approach to the immigration crisis — and it is a crisis — is not worthy of a great nation. It waves the bloody shirt of “invasion” with rhetoric that can only encourage lawlessness and violence against anyone whose appearance or speech may strike some American yahoo as suspicious.

Utah’s elected leadership is wrong to back Abbott’s crusade. Their constituents should tell them so.

What a difference a year makes.

Last February, the Republican Party that Cox remains loyal to had not yet been fully subsumed into Donald Trump’s xenophobia-centered reelection effort. That’s the fascist-adjacent idea that all would be hunky-dory in the good old US of A if it weren’t for all those pesky foreigners.

Then, Cox was carrying on the tradition of Utah Republicans being a voice of reason on immigration matters.

Humanity in immigration policy has also been a constant theme of the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which calls for keeping families together and “building bridges of cooperation rather than walls of separation.”

The understanding that Utah was founded by immigrants, Mormon pioneers fleeing a hostile nation, has long motivated our leaders to take a much more humane approach to the subject than many of their fellow conservatives.

Last week, in rhetoric not quite so violent as Abbott’s, Cox claimed that illegal immigrants are to blame for such Utah woes as homelessness and the flow of dangerous drugs, particularly the epidemic of the often-deadly fentanyl.

Those claims are not justified by the facts. As Utah’s reality-based community, led by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, were quick to point out.

Americans are perfectly capable of providing their own deadly drugs which, as Gill and other experts point out, is mostly the case with fentanyl.

Homelessness is also mostly a home-grown problem.

“What you see, in reality, is a failure of our policymakers to invest in mental health and transitional housing and supportive services,” Gill said. “It’s a deflection of the responsibility of state government on its own policy failures, and trying to couple it with a photo-op on the border is beneath the governor to do so.”


Cox did depart somewhat from other Republicans by correctly placing some of the blame on congressional inaction, not claiming it is all the fault of President Joe Biden.

Of course, there was a bipartisan immigration reform bill supported by, among others, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, that would have helped face the problem. The bill included many things the Republicans said they wanted to discourage people from crossing the border without authorization.

But it was torpedoed by Republicans’ Trumpish view that slowing illegal immigration is less important than denying Biden points in an election year.

Utah’s political, cultural and religious leaders once stood for humanity as a cornerstone of immigration policy. It was the core of The Utah Compact of 2019.

It could be that way again. If our leaders would listen to the better angels of Utah’s nature and not a Trumpist vision of a racist nation.