Last week the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state of Utah to prevent House Bill 497 the Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act from going into effect. The suit charges, among other things, that the bill is unconstitutional because it attempts to trump federal authority over this nation's immigration laws.
We support this suit in principle because we believe that HB 497 is, among other things, a punitive immigration law which undermines public safety, creates a culture of fear in our society and will ultimately cause fractures in our communities. It's because of these societal infringements that, contrary to misrepresentation and misinformed public opinion, we believe HB 497 violates the Utah Compact.
Written in late 2010, the Compact is a statement of principles meant to address, with moderation and civility, "the complex challenges associated with a broken national immigration system." This was a remarkable goal indeed.
Equally remarkable is the fact that the Compact was authored by a diverse range of voices, including political, business, law enforcement and religious leaders who all saw the need to take a stand against fear. It urges a humane approach to the reality of immigration: "Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of good will."
The Compact also says immigration is an issue between the federal government and other countries "not Utah and other countries." It says local police agencies should focus on fighting crime, "not civil violations of federal code." And because "strong families are the foundation of successful communities," it opposes policies that separate families. It also recognizes the significant economic value of immigrants as workers and taxpayers.
The original version of HB 497 was a mirrored image of Arizona's SB 1070. When that bill became law, it sent the message that the only way to deal with our broken immigration system is to scare or dispel migrants from our communities. The compassion and acceptance for those different from the rest of us was misplaced by SB 1070, resulting in a huge public outcry from all corners of the country. That is why the Utah Compact was written and was a welcome contrast to Arizona's law and HB 497.
Now, contrary to recent claims, the current version of HB 497 still parallels the Arizona law enough that it will result in institutionalizing a state of fear and mistrust across Utah.
We believe that a society that focuses not on fear and suspicion but on inclusion and trust will foster a society built around families, spirituality, healthy communities, healthy economies and an environment that truly welcomes the world.
The Utah Compact embraces these values. HB 497 does not. We are therefore thankful for the courage of the plaintiffs who are standing up against fear and for what is good about Utah.
Rev. Steven Klemz is pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City. Rev. Dr. Catherine Gregg is rector of Grace Episcopal Church in St. George.