This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
During a deeply divided time when many of our Hispanic, Asian and African friends and family members are worried about their personal safety, the culture and values of Utahns provide the nation a beacon of hope.
In April 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, the "show me your papers" law that opened the door for local law enforcement to target those they felt were undocumented immigrants. All of a sudden, immigrant families were put on notice, and the law began to make its way north to Utah.
But, seven months later, conservative faith, law enforcement and business leadership banded together, not just to stop SB 1070, but to fundamentally change America's immigration debate. On Nov. 11, 2010, they announced the five-principle Utah Compact.
Six years later, I think about the Utah Compact more and more. It was a simple, elegant document based on everything not just Utahns but Americans hold dear: Family, security, freedom.
Earlier this year, I returned to Utah, where I learned more about the state's history. In April I was honored to attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Conference. Outside of the gorgeous setting and the warmth in the auditorium, I remember two things from the closing afternoon session.
The first was Elder Patrick Kearon's poignant, heartfelt words about the plight of refugees around the world. In his sermon, he said, "Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period we hope a short period in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders and contributors in other fields."
My second standout memory is the diversity of those who attended. I remember walking through the grounds that afternoon and realizing families from around the world were represented. Asian, African, Latino, white faces. From old to young. It felt like a huge blended-family picnic.
I take comfort in thinking back to that afternoon.
And as we look toward a Trump administration, a House led by Paul Ryan and a Senate led by Mitch McConnell, we should draw inspiration from the Utah Compact. In that statement, faith, law enforcement and business leaders came together to say that immigration conversations in the state must be based on Utah values.
Starting in 2017, Republicans will have an opportunity to take full and fair credit for creating a new process that works for American workers as well as for immigrants. Or they will get the "credit" for perpetuating or even worsening an unsustainable status quo.
We need a plan that takes clear steps to finish securing the border, creates a visa program matched to America's needs, protects, preserves and reunites families and establishes a workable path for the undocumented to earn legalized status and eventual citizenship, provided they have no criminal record, pay taxes and meet other requirements.
We need an immigration process that aligns with the needs of America's economy and businesses. Reform will spur innovation and result in a healthier economy that works for all Americans and their families.
As part of any changes, we need to make sure young people who have been protected from deportation under the current administration are safe. They are as American as any other child. Many know no other country.
The challenge to resolve our nation's immigration impasse is great. Politicians should not use immigration to divide us precisely when our shared history as immigrants and refugees could bring us together.
How Kearon described refugees has stuck with me. Their journey, their plight, is one important step in time for them. Our response is more important.
As Kearon put it, "This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us."
Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of the forthcoming "There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration."