This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As I have traveled from home in Utah to sociology conferences around the country, I have had bragging rights in my research area: migration. That's because my home state has been a trailblazer in forging inclusive immigrant policies.
First, Utah's laws embraced newcomers as drivers. In 1999, House Bill 36 passed, permitting people registered with the IRS to obtain a driver license. This policy helped ensure that people who work and live in Utah can legally drive and get car insurance. Over a 10-year period that I analyzed this issue, 98,355 people utilized this policy, which produced important public safety benefits. In 1998 the statewide share of uninsured drivers was 10 percent. By 2007, it had dropped to 5.1 percent, according to the Utah Driver License Division.
Next, Utah opened its policies to prospective college students. In 2002, House Bill 144 passed, allowing undocumented students to pay resident tuition rates in public colleges and universities, provided they met key criteria. In the decade following, 3,548 students benefited from this policy. The social, political and economic benefits of a college education simply can't be overstated; at a minimum, holders of college degrees earn on average nearly $1 million more than their non-college-educated counterparts during their working lifetimes. That is money spent buying houses, paying taxes and investing in the state's economic future.
And then there was the Utah Compact. This 2010 statement of principles around immigration emphasizes empathy, criticizes the separation of families and urges the federal government to create humane immigration policies. A broad coalition of business leaders, community advocates, law enforcement officials, church leaders from every faith and politicians from both major parties created it. And one year after its unveiling, in one of the reddest states in America, 4,500 people had signed the Utah Compact. Many states have borrowed from it, forging their own agreements on immigration.
As we enter a new political era marked by the beginning of the 2017 legislative session in Utah and the 45th presidential administration Utahns should build on their legacy of smart, humane immigration policies.
What this means is remembering that Utah like many states can lead the federal government. We have a strong track record on immigrant integration, forging policies that are good not only for immigrants, but for all Utahns.
The Donald Trump administration threatens to undermine our proud immigrant legacy in three ways. First, his executive order around public safety requires that public law enforcement agencies help the federal government to "faithfully execute immigration law." What this means in practice is that local police officers could be required to arrest and assist in the deportation process of a person whose only wrong-doing was having an expired visa. The Salt Lake City Police Department has appropriately resisted such an action.
Second, Trump imposed a temporary ban on refugees entering the country, including those whose refugee applications have been vetted through an exhaustive, multi-year-long process. Gov. Gary Herbert has publicly described this action as "misguided" and reminded us that immigrants are part of the social "fabric of this state." Utahns should applaud Herbert's response.
Finally, Trump has pledged to terminate the Deferred Action to Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a practice that shielded from deportation immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, allowing them to study and work without fear. Terminating DACA would undermine the success of HB144, and the thousands of lives it has improved in our state.
As residents of Utah, we must promote our legacy of immigrant integration. That means defending our immigrant policies that work and resisting those damaging immigrant policies imposed on us by the federal government. That means supporting local groups, attorneys and civic leaders that are conducting workshops for immigrants, fighting to protect family unity and promoting citizenship campaigns.
These brave advocates and leaders and the work of immigrants, past and present are what the American dream is all about. As Utahns, let's continue to blaze trails and show the nation that the American dream was never built on fear, ignorance and exclusion.
Julie Stewart is an associate professor of sociology at Westminster College and a member of the Board of Directors of Comunidades Unidas.