This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A new report shows that the undocumented immigrant population in the United States has stopped growing, and that is opportunity to finally carve out a long-term immigration solution.
Utah is one of just eight states to see a rise in undocumented immigrants between 2009 and 2014, and our increase was not large. We went from 95,000 to 100,000, according to estimates in the report from Pew Research Center. Undocumented immigrants are 5.4 percent of Utah's workforce.
Nationally, the estimate has leveled out at just over 11 million people, down more than a million from its peak in 2007. We are not being overrun, and we are not in a crisis. But we do have an immigration system that is fundamentally broken, and Congress should put angry election rhetoric in the past and get a bipartisan agreement on reforming it.
Pew also looked at what occupations have the most undocumented workers, and that, too, shows a reality that doesn't match the ranting. There is no industry where immigrant workers have driven citizens out. Even in Utah agriculture, the most immigrant-heavy industry, only one in five workers is undocumented.
And Utah needs them. Farmers struggle to find legal workers either immigrants with visas or citizens.
The best reason to believe an immigration bill could pass is the amount of agreement that already exists. Virtually everyone is on board with reforming (and increasing) the work visa system to make it faster and easier. Even Utah Sen. Mike Lee believes Utah needs more sheepherders, and there aren't enough legal workers in the state who will take the job and know how to do it.
Republicans have insisted on an incremental process that puts increased border security and visa reform ahead of the larger, thornier issue of what should happen with those 11 million who came here illegally. But that approach has left us where we are nowhere. If Democrats are willing to move on beefing up border protection, Republicans should reciprocate by coming to the table on a path to citizenship or other solution to pull families out of the shadows.
Even Rep. Jason Chaffetz has said he is embarrassed that the GOP-controlled House and Senate haven't been able to get together on an immigration bill, and he is not easily embarrassed.
This could be a big and reachable victory for the new president and the next Congress. They will need the win, and so will the nation.