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Just three weeks before Iowa Republicans hold their presidential caucus, opponents of tough, state-led enforcement-only immigration laws launched The Iowa Compact on Tuesday in an attempt to dial down harsh rhetoric and focus on compassionate and comprehensive reform.
Modeled after The Utah Compact, which was signed a little more than a year ago by key business, religious and political leaders, The Iowa Compact features similar language and goals.
Lori Chesser, chairwoman of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition, said the principles laid out in the document are in stark contrast to what Iowa voters have been hearing as GOP candidates crisscross the state.
"That's the concern with the campaigns," Chesser said on a conference call. "There has not been enough thoughtful discussion."
The issue of illegal immigration has dogged the Republican candidates coming up as a topic at almost all of the more than a dozen debates as each tries to advocate for a secure border without appearing to support some sort of amnesty for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.
It's also notable that the Compact was launched in a state known for one of the nation's most vocal opponents of illegal immigration Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
King was not made available for comment on the release of The Iowa Compact, but on his website he touts support for amending the U.S. Constitution to repeal birthright citizenship and building a large, concrete fence to block the border.
He was also a vocal supporter of Arizona's enforcement-only law, SB1070.
But supporters of the compact are trying to move the dialogue away from that sort of hard-line approach.
Jay Pattee, mayor of Perry, Iowa, said the tone of the GOP campaigns has been troubling.
"During the Republican presidential primary season, the rhetoric on immigration has reached a new low," he said. "This type of debate is not only extreme and divisive, but it serves as a distraction from a genuine policy debate."
The Iowa Compact is the latest from a string of states including Indiana and Maine that have followed Utah's lead on the policy-defining document after facing state proposals to tackle immigration.
It has five stated principles: calling for federal solutions, advocating a smart approach to law enforcement, keeping families together, meeting economic needs and making the state a culturally rich and welcoming state.
Those five principles divert slightly from The Utah Compact, which had five stated principles focused on pressing for federal solutions, keeping law enforcement focusing on local crimes instead of federal immigration enforcement, keeping families together, acknowledging economic contributions of immigrants and living in a free society.
The launch of The Iowa Compact came one day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case on Arizona's SB1070 law. That law was the inspiration for other states to address immigration reform, including Utah, which passed and signed into law an amended version. Iowa also had similar legislation drafted, but it died in committee.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff a key player in The Utah Compact movement and a vocal opponent of SB1070 is now in a position where he is defending Utah's enforcement-only law, which is currently being challenged by the federal government and civil-rights groups.
Shurtleff said HB497 is different from Arizona's law and that its sponsor, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, took great pains to eliminate the sections ruled unconstitutional by the federal court.
"The Arizona enforcement-only law that is up before the U.S. Supreme Court was a very aggressive, strong enforcement-only approach," Shurtleff said. "Utah, recognizing the potential constitutional concerns and based on our Utah Compact statement of principles, passed a substantially less aggressive enforcement bill."