McEntee: Utah Compact deserves a thumbs up from lawmakers
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The Utah Compact is a call to compassion for immigrants who are here illegally but are otherwise law-abiding people who want what anyone would for themselves and their children — a chance to work, get an education and make their own way.

Now Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Holladay, is reintroducing HJR1, which asks the Legislature to support the compact. But since lawmakers turned thumbs down when he introduced a similar resolution in 2011, it probably won't make it this time.

That's a shame. The compact states that immigration is a federal responsibility and asks Utah's congressional delegation to help fashion tougher federal laws and protect our borders. State leaders, on the other hand, are asked to find "reasonable" policies regarding immigrants in Utah.

One would be to concentrate law enforcement on crimes. After all, simply being in the United States illegally is a civil violation of federal code.

Another would be working to strengthen, not tear asunder, families of any kind.

And, considering the political and religious majority in Utah, it's worth remembering that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has strongly endorsed the compact.

Hemingway says he's baffled by the apparent resistance.

"I'm sorry, but I can't honestly see what kind of damage this is doing," he said. "All I'm saying is, the people who really support [the resolution] are the chamber of commerce and the religious community. Even the [conservative] Sutherland Institute likes this."

Meantime, Hemingway says, he's getting phone calls from all over the country, likely because President Barack Obama has said the immigration issue is high on his list of things to do in his second and last term.

"Honest to goodness, when you know the bulk of this state, and the people you care about support the compact, how can you vote against it?"

Those of us who support the Utah Compact celebrate Utah's indigenous peoples and the Mormon immigrants who left their home countries and made their way here. We welcome students from all over the world and hire top talent for business and industry, and most have the proper documentation.

But we have an untapped wealth of talent and drive among the undocumented who work hard, live peacefully and contribute to Utah through art, religion, music, literature and so much more.

On the troubling side, undocumented people can be targeted by criminals who know their victims probably wouldn't report them to the cops. Many law enforcement officials say that makes it difficult to find, charge and convict predators.

Hemingway's resolution calls for supporting law enforcement's professional judgment and discretion regarding crime. It recognizes that families are fundamental to community, and that all children need health care, education and a sense of well-being.

I also strongly agree with the resolution's statement that "the way Utah citizens treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors."

Finally, a resolution is just that. Most have no force of law but are expressions of the Legislature, according to its website.

Hey, in recent years, we've had proposed resolutions demanding that the federal government hand over its land holdings in Utah to the state; calling for a parental rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and recognizing the value of the Workers Compensation Fund.

Some pass, some don't. But the Utah Compact resolution simply asks for the Legislature to state that Utah is a place that welcomes people of good will and that its principles can have an impact on the tone of the immigration discussion here.

Given the often-punitive tone of the Legislature on immigration reform in recent years, that would be a big step forward.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.