As the federal government continues to drag its heels with regard to immigration reform, two Utah laws that provide common-sense solutions to intractable immigration problems are in a state of legislative limbo.
The laws in question were passed three years ago, but their implementation has been delayed because they require federal approval in order to be workable. One would allow those here illegally to stay in Utah as guest workers if they submit to a background check, pay a fine, and demonstrate a degree of English proficiency.
The other would let Utah residents sponsor undocumented immigrants in order to allow them to work in Utah. Both are consistent with the Utah Compact, which calls for a compassionate and realistic approach to immigration. It articulates five principles to guide the immigration debate: seeking federal solutions; focusing law enforcement on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code; uniting rather than separating families; recognizing immigrants’ contributions to the economy; and adopting a humane and inclusive attitude toward immigrants.
The Utah Compact has been endorsed by a wide range of political, business, law enforcement and religious groups, including this paper.
The problem is that immigration is the sole province of the federal government, and Washington would have to provide waivers to existing immigration law in order for these measures to be enforceable. Sadly, there is no movement in Congress to even consider granting such waivers. Consequently, Utah Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is proposing to delay implementation of the two laws until 2017, to buy more time to persuade Congress to cooperate. These laws “demonstrate that elected officials can come together and address in a responsible manner immigration," said Bramble.
Partisan rhetoric has made it challenging to find practical solutions in the immigration debate. Millions of lives are impacted by this intransigence in Washington. The Utah laws represented a good faith effort to step up and fill the void left by Congress’s inaction. Such measures would not be necessary if Congress were actively addressing the problems at hand. Absent genuine leadership on this issue, they are an appropriate response to a pressing need.
While we support Senator Bramble’s proposed delay of implementation, we recognize that this is merely a stopgap measure, and that Congress had a responsibility to pursue immigration reform. The principles at the center of these laws could provide the framework for effective national legislation, and Congress would do well to emulate them.