Mar 11, 2011

Immigration Politics: The 'Utah Way' toward immigration reform. OpEd

A look at the political contrast between the Utah Republican party and the national party on immigration. 

Utah, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by better than three to one in the state legislature, has passed the nation's most liberal - and most reality-based - policy on illegal immigration. And the Republican governor is expected to sign it.

The legislation includes both a watered-down enforcement provision that police say won't make much difference and a guest-worker program that would make all the difference in the world - if it survives constitutional challenge - by granting legal status to undocumented workers and allowing them to live normal lives. In a nutshell, it's a one-state version of the overarching immigration reform package that Congress has repeatedly tried, and failed, to enact.The 'Utah Way' toward immigration reform ... "

... the "Utah Way," as some are calling it, is also a fraternal attack on Republicans, in Washington and elsewhere, whose only strategy is to demonize, criminalize and deport 11 million illegal immigrants. ...

Utah's guest-worker bill doesn't grant citizenship, of course, but in every other way it's exactly what national Republicans have derided as "amnesty." It would grant work permits to undocumented immigrants, and their immediate families, who pay a fine, clear a criminal background check and study English. ... 

The advocates' genius was to reframe the cause of immigration reform, including the guest-worker program, as fundamentally a conservative project. In the face of sound bites from reform opponents such as "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" Utah conservatives shot back with: What part of destroying the economy don't you understand? And by the way, what part of breaking up families don't you understand?
The question is whether Utah will inspire similar movements in other states or whether it will remain the exception. On that, the evidence is mixed. ...

Encouragingly, though, several conservative states have rejected Arizona-style bills this year. Reform advocates are at work on versions of the Utah Compact in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

The lesson from the "Utah Way" is that pragmatists in search of solutions can initiate a reform movement outside the legislature and build a case and a coalition that appeal to conservatives. By offering ideas that may provide a fix in the absence of federal action, they may trump the tired slogans of opponents of reform." Washington Post

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