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Washington • Utahns re-elected state lawmakers who supported comprehensive immigration reform and Americans will do likewise with their members of Congress if they step up and "do the right thing," former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff testified Monday.
Shurtleff appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it delved into a weeks-long debate over legislation that would boost border security while allowing for a long path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
Shurtleff said Utah officials were worried about the effects and image of Arizona's rigid enforcement-only law passed in 2010 and didn't want to take the same step. Instead, the Utah Legislature passed a bill requiring more enforcement of immigration laws and another allowing for a guest-worker program.
"They were threatened," Shurtleff said of state lawmakers who backed the package of bills. "They were told by some of the groups who have been on these panels today that they would be kicked out of office at Republican conventions and primaries. The truth was they stepped up and did the right thing, and every one of those brave, in our case Republican, legislators were re-elected."
As Congress takes up the controversial bill, Shurtleff said senators and House members should learn from Utah's experience.
"They did the right thing for the right reason and the people of Utah recognized it," he said. "And I believe the people in this country will do so as well."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has said he is open to supporting the immigration legislation, though he still has questions about it. Sen. Mike Lee says he is strong against the bill. Both Utahns are members of the committee, which plans to hold another hearing Tuesday, this one featuring Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Utah's guest-worker program was set to kick in July 1, though state lawmakers punted the start date while Congress takes up comprehensive immigration reform.
Shurtleff endorsed the immigration bill before the Senate as a good mix of increased border security with a solution for those undocumented immigrants who are in the country now.
"This certainly is no amnesty," Shurtleff said, noting that bringing immigrants into a legal status would be a "boon for public safety in this country."
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., noted during the hearing that the Utah Compact a suggested approach to immigration backed by the state's faith leaders, business representatives and elected officials had served as a "blueprint and a model for a lot of people in Arizona."
"Thanks for leading the way," Flake told Shurtleff.