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Ahead of Re-election Bid, Former Champion of Sensible Reform Throws Red Meat to Anti-Immigrant Base
Washington – New immigration legislation to be introduced this week by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) seeks to double down on the current deportation-only strategy: a strategy that has clearly failed to work these last twenty or so years. The fact that a Republican would be pandering to the far right on immigration comes as no surprise. But it is disappointing that the lawmaker proposing sound bite “solutions” is Senator Orrin Hatch, once known as a proudly pro-immigrant Republican. Perhaps he felt left out earlier this year when we gave his colleague Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) the award for the “biggest hypocrite on immigration” in the U.S. Senate.
Hatch was a past author and sponsor of the DREAM Act – a bill he voted against just last year. Back in the early 1990’s he co-authored a bill with Senator Kennedy to repeal employer sanctions. In 2000 he forged a compromise that enabled the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act to be enacted into law, a measure that enabled many undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. Hatch is now attempting to distance himself from his past common sense. He went to the Heritage Foundation last week to burnish his new hardliner image and seems intent on cozying up to the hard right, presumably in an attempt to avoid the fate of his longtime colleague Senator Robert Bennett, who lost his Senate re-election bid in 2010 to Tea Party-backed primary challenger (now Senator) Mike Lee.
It didn’t have to be this way. In fact, the immigration debate in Hatch’s own state provides a good road map for him to embrace a sensible solution that integrates immigrants rather than shunning them. The Utah Compact is a bi-partisan declaration of immigration policy principles endorsed by Republican Governor Gary Herbert, lawmakers of both parties, and religious and business leaders. The Compact strikes a sensible tone in recognizing that enforcement-only approaches only work as sound bites, that policies promoting family separation are unwelcome and unwise, and in calling for the Utah congressional delegation to address and fix immigration at the federal level – including making sure undocumented immigrants gain legal status. This year, Democratic state senator Luz Robles is also working with Republicans and other community leaders to advance a centrist proposal to give work permits to undocumented immigrants residing in Utah. The final step would be federal action on comprehensive immigration reform, something Senator Hatch has the power to advance or block.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “At the same time leaders in Utah are stepping up and leading towards a balanced path forward on immigration, Senator Hatch is stepping back in a desperate attempt to placate the hard right, perpetuating policies that are ineffective, costly and politically short-sighted. For the good of Utah and the good of the nation, he should come to the table to work on real, bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform.”