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On a chilly Friday afternoon in the place marking Brigham Young's decision to settle Salt Lake Valley, state lawmakers and the Mormon church marked the one-year anniversary of The Utah Compact a document supporters credit for sweeping immigration reform within the Utah and across the nation.
The symbolism wasn't accidental, according to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
"I think it's fully fitting we do this here where Brigham Young [and Mormon settlers] came into the valley as immigrants some would say unauthorized immigrants to this valley in 1847," Shurtleff said. Mexico owned the territory when pioneers arrived.
Shurtleff, who has traversed the nation touting The Utah Compact and pushing for a more compassionate approach to immigration reform, read aloud the Compact's five principles of immigration reform, including the need a federal solution, keeping families together, enforcing the law, acknowledging the economic impact of immigrants and the value of a free society.
The issue of illegal immigration has proven to be a divisive one within the Republican Party as well as the LDS Church with the latter inserting itself into the debate and rebuking the enforcement-only approach to the issue.
Elder L. Whitney Clayton, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said "the complex issues of immigration reform lies in a balanced approach and not in extreme positions."
The comment came just days after Arizona Senate President and immigration firebrand Russell Pearce's recall in a special election. Pearce, a Mormon, was replaced by voters with Sen.-elect Jerry Lewis, an LDS branch president who has credited The Utah Compact with changing the tone of the on dialogue on illegal immigration.
In Utah, supporters said the document led to passage of four immigration reform bills in the last session of the Legislature.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Friday the most controversial measure that hewed to the Compact's principles a guest worker law showed how divisive the issue. He said he'd been approached by several groups about repealing or replacing it.
"No one expects we passed something that was perfect yet and we are willing to improve," Waddoups said. "We will be willing to look at that and invite all parties to bring forward things that will make the legislation better."
But Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration member Ron Mortensen, who attended the ceremony, released a statement complaining The Utah Compact is simply a vehicle to grant eventual amnesty to roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
He also took issue with the signing of The Utah Compact happening on Veterans Day.
"The actions of the Compact supporters are in sharp contrast to the position of America's veterans' organizations and are a slap in the face to the millions of veterans who oppose illegal immigration and who have fought and died to preserve the sovereignty and U.S. Constitution," Mortensen said.
Former Sen. Jake Garn, a U.S. Navy veteran who once rode on the space shuttle, wasn't troubled by the timing of the event, however, and called the debate over illegal immigration one made up of "artificial differences."
"You look into space and recognize there are more galaxies out there than all the individual grains of sand here on every beach on earth," Garn said. "And we've got to treat each other differently because of the language we speak, the color of our skin, whether we're bald or hairy or whatever? It makes no sense at all."
Garn, when he served in the Senate, voted against the Immigration Reform and Control Act, according to the website govtrack.us. The law signed by President Ronald Reagan on Nov. 6, 1986, allowed about 3 million undocumented immigrants the opportunity to apply for citizenship.
The 213-word Utah Compact has been signed online by more than 4,600 people since it was launched and has spawned compacts in Maine and Indiana. Shurtleff said Iowa and Idaho are also considering compacts and urged other states to pick up the template as well.
It has the backing of Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and The Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based conservative think-tank.
State lawmakers who attended the event included Sens. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, and sponsor of the guest worker law, Ben McAdams and Luz Robles, both D-Salt Lake City, and Reps. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, and Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, both key figures in the passage of the guest worker law were traveling in China on a National Conference of State Legislatures-sponsored trip.
Absent from the event were Gov. Gary Herbert and all five members of the Utah congressional delegation.
"The impact of these few short paragraphs that we see here today on the tone and direction of immigration reform in Utah and nationally is a testament that through small and simple things, great things can come to pass," McAdams said.