Can the Utah Compact become America's Compact? We hope so.
Utah leaders have said almost from the beginning that their goal in passing a package of immigration reform bills in the recently concluded legislative session was to create a model for national reform. They hope that the new Utah laws put pressure on Congress to act.
We agree that Congress should address the gap between current law and the reality that an estimated 11 million illegal aliens live and work in the United States in violation of that law. Clearly, there is a void between U.S. immigration policy and economic reality.
Some people say that the answer is simply to enforce existing law. We disagree, and join the other people who say that law and policy must be changed to take better account of the fact that certain sectors of the American economy, such as the food and hospitality industries, rely on immigrant labor. Congress should adjust the system to allow those workers to follow a legal path to the United States more easily.
That means a more realistic guest worker program and a means to allow those in the country illegally to come out of the shadows, identify themselves, pay fines for past violations, obtain genuine documents and join the legal workforce.
Any reform program must be comprehensive, including enforcement.
That's where the Utah Compact comes in. It is a statement of five principles that various civic and religious groups adopted to guide the state's immigration reform effort. They include that a solution must come from the federal government; that local enforcement efforts should target criminal offenses, not civil immigration violations; that policies should not separate families; that the economic contributions of immigrant workers must be recognized; that immigrants must be treated humanely.
These are sensible starting points that should guide congressional debate. That's why we hope the Utah Compact becomes America's Compact.
We have opposed most of Utah's immigration reform laws, including the guest worker program, not because we disagree with the principles behind them but because, under the Constitution, the state cannot enact immigration laws. That is a congressional prerogative.
That said, we welcome the effort of Utah leaders to encourage federal officials and other states to get behind a national version of the Utah Compact. Maybe if everyone pushes together, Congress will budge.