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Washington • Utah Attorney General John Swallow and a bipartisan group of his colleagues are urging Congress to pass a major immigration reform bill.

In a letter sent Tuesday, the 35 attorneys general focused primarily on border security and the visa program, but gave a nod to the most controversial issue involved in the debate: what to do with the 11 million people here illegally.

"Our immigration policies must provide a sensible means to deal with the immigrants who are currently in the country without legal status but are of good character, pay taxes and are committed to continuing to contribute to our society," the letter reads.

That broad statement indicates the attorneys general support a path to legal status but doesn't say in what form, and Swallow said he'd leave that up to policymakers in Washington. None of Utah's six members of Congress has supported a process to offer legal status or citizenship to undocumented immigrants, though one is expected to be included in legislation unveiled this month.

In his 2012 campaign, Swallow said little about immigration, other than he would defend Utah's immigration enforcement law, which remains under review by the federal district court in the state.

He also backed away from the positions of former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who aggressively pushed the Utah Compact, a document promoting a federal immigration overhaul and a sympathetic approach to immigrants and their families.

The letter Swallow signed Tuesday included many of the same goals. It says immigration policies should try to keep families together and should acknowledge the economic contributions of immigrants.

However, the AGs' focus was on security.

"We are writing to convey our support for federal immigration reform that improves our immigration system, keeps our communities safe and protects our borders," said the letter sent to the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

Among the signatories were Beau Biden of Delaware, who is Vice President Joe Biden's son, and the attorneys general from Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.

"As state attorneys general, we urge federal officials to recognize their unique responsibility to resolve this issue once and for all," Swallow said in a statement announcing his participation. "We are being impacted with drug crime, identity-theft issues and gangs due to our porous borders and it is threatening our safety, our economy and our way of life."

mcanham@sltrib.comTwitter: @mattcanham

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