The Utah Compact offers Colorado a way forward on immigration legislation

Despite growing evidence that radical legislation to curb illegal immigration in Arizona has been a costly failure, some Republican legislators are determined to repeat the experience in Colorado. Earlier this month the conservative Republican Study Committee of Colorado met to discuss plans to introduce an Arizona-style bill in the 2011 legislative session.

To supplement their own anti-immigrant rhetoric, RSCC officials brought representatives from the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform to speak to the issues.

Unfortunately, the motives of these two organizations are as questionable as the alarming numbers they threw around with little or no substantiation.

According to a Colorado Statesman report, “Both organizations were started by John Tanton, who founded FAIR 30 years ago and still sits on its board; he started CIS in 1985.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified FAIR as a “hate group,” and calls Tanton the “racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

FAIR, the Southern Poverty Law Center says,  continues to receive support from the Pioneer Fund, known for awarding grants for studies in heredity that are linked to the discredited field of eugenics.

The fund also has provided financial support to neo-Nazi and white nationalist authors, according to liberal watchdog groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and Fairness and Accuracy in Media.

There is no reason to question RSCC leadership claims not to have known about the background of FAIR and CIS. There is every reason to question, however, now that their connections are known, why their inflated costs and doomsday predictions would continue to be taken seriously by Republican legislators.

More reliable figures for the Republicans to examine come from a study by Elliott D. Pollack & Co., identified by The New York Times as “a respected Arizona economic consulting firm.” Its study estimates boycotts in protest of Senate Bill 1070, the Arizona immigration bill, have cost Arizona 2,761 lost jobs, $86.5 million in lost earnings, $253 million in lost economic output and $9.4 million in lost tax revenues.

Fortunately, Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll has indicated that the Senate has no inclination to consider legislation modeled on SB 1070, even if it passes the House. She told The Colorado Statesman, “If people want to have a conversation about (immigration) that’s OK but (SB 1070) is the model of what not to do.”

To look for a better way forward, both Democrats and Republicans would do well to study the example of Utah. Only weeks ago, Utah was among states considering Arizona-type legislation. It seemed on course to pass something along those lines in the next legislative session.

Alarmed by the economic impact of the unpopular law on the Arizona economy, an ad hoc group of Utah civic, law-enforcement, political, business and religious leaders came together to look for an alternative to address “the complex challenges associated with a broken national immigration system.”

They named the statement of principles that emerged “The Utah Compact,” and offered it as “a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform.” The New York Times noted, “What a welcome contrast it draws with the xenophobic radicalism of places like Arizona.”

The compact lays out five key principles that should guide state immigration policy.

It recognizes that immigration is a federal matter and that local law enforcement should be “fighting crime, not civil violations of federal code.” It states “strong families are the foundation of successful communities” and opposes policies that separate them unnecessarily. It acknowledges the contributions of immigrants as workers and taxpayers. And, finally, it urges a humane approach to immigration because, “Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of good will.”

Although the Utah Compact embraces an approach that most liberals could endorse, as the NY Times points out, “The architects of the compact are conservative Republicans who have decided not to toe the simplistic party line.”

If Colorado Republicans and Democrats are serious about tackling immigration reform in a bipartisan way, the Utah approach should be at the center of discussions. “A clearer expression of good sense and sanity than Utah’s would be hard to find,” the Times concludes.

Colorado needs some “sense and sanity” in its approach to illegal immigration. It would do well to endorse the principles of the Utah Compact as a first step forward.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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