5 Things to Know About Utah’s Immigration Model

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From NewsTaco, where this blog was first published.

News last week that the Arizona state senate had rejected five stringent anti-immigrant bills seemed to signal a turning point in the fear-the-immigrant narrative that has been spreading across the country from the SB1070 epicenter. It seemed as if anti-immigrant mongers  in all the other states in the union were fanning the flames started in Arizona. But an economic reality has doused the embers. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce issued a terse letter warning of the effects of a continued anti-immigrant rampage: Arizona is looking like a nativist, restrictive and intolerant place, and that’s bad for business.

So are states now looking to Arizona as the model of what they don’t want to be?

Utah, Arizona’s immediate neighbor to the north, had Arizona-like bills working through the legislative process, but cooler heads have managed to prevail. That state’s legislature has approved a very forward thinking set of immigration bills that could serve as a new model as we move away from the Arizona nightmare. Keep in mind that Utah is a very conservative state, “reddest of the red,” as the Los Angeles Times quoted a prominent conservative leader as saying.

Here’s a list of five things that make the Utah immigration legislation a model for the rest of the country:

  1. The law gives undocumented immigrants, who do not commit serious crimes and are working in Utah, documents that make them legal residents (The law still runs afoul of federal immigration laws, so the White House would need to give Utah special permission to hire undocumented workers).
  2. The law requires police to check the immigration status only of people arrested for felonies and serious misdemeanors (not for any violation as does Arizona’s law).
  3. The law states that any undocumented person who worked in Utah before May of this year (and their immediate family) can obtain residency documents if they pass a background check and pay a fine of up to $2,500.
  4. Utah’s Chamber of Commerce drafted and many civic organizations signed the “Utah Compact,” a document that calls for, according to the LA Times, “a focus on families and empathy in immigration policy, and using police to fight crime rather than enforce immigration laws.”
  5. The Mormon Church endorsed the Utah Compact.

An explanation given for Utah’s empathy towards immigrants is that many of the state’s residents have been missionaries in countries other than the United States and “are sympathetic to the plight of outsiders.” Also, the Utah business community was nervously observing the loss of tourist and convention revenue in Arizona as a direct result of the anti-immigrant legislation – they didn’t want those losses in their state.

It should be noted, though, that there is already a recall movement in place to oust the legislators who voted for the immigration law and some members of the Mormon church have curtailed their contributions.

Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda