In the weeks and months after Arizona’s infamous Senate Bill 1070 became law last year, no shortage of commentators predicted that “Arizona fever” would sweep the nation, spawning copycat immigration bills in every corner of the US. In some states, this happened; stringent anti-immigration bills are winding their way through the Georgia, Oklahoma, and Florida statehouses (among others) right now.
Some states, however, broke the other way, advancing pro-immigrant bills and proving that state-sponsored legislation could represent both sides of the political spectrum. State-level DREAM Acts are being considered in Maryland, Connecticut, California, Colorado, among others, while Pennsylvania and New Mexico are trying to preempt Secure Communities by trying to strengthen the relationship between police and immigrants. Not all of these bills become law, but they do reflect a progressive pushback against the bills passed by Arizona and other hardliner states.
And then there’s Utah.
Clarification is needed: Utah is Conservative Country. The last time it voted for a Democratic president was 1964. It is more Republican than perhaps any other state. Utah is no shrinking violet about how ruby-red it is.
Which was why it was such a pleasant surprise that Utah passed an immigration bill—just signed into law this week—that seeks to give work permits to undocumented immigrants already in the state rather than just trying to deport them en masse. The Utah bill does have Arizona-like flaws: it also calls for strict enforcement, wants local police to double as immigration officials, and encourages racial profiling. All of that, we believe, is taking the wrong tack.
But the work permit provision of the law is truly game-changing. It would give 110,000 undocumented immigrants already living in the state a chance to step out of the shadows of second-class citizenship so that they can properly integrate into society. It is a practical and realistic attempt to solve a difficult problem without resorting to knee-jerk sound bites about how we should just deport all of “the illegals.”
Many groups, some our traditional allies, some not exactly allies, have come out against the Utah bill from both sides. FAIR believes the law is amnesty, while SEIU says it will exploit the economy. The Utah bill is not perfect. But we at America’s Voice believe that Utah should be applauded for trying to find some kind of middle ground. To make the perfect the enemy of the good, we feel, is to allow hardliners and extremists an excuse to reject moderation and compromise.