There is a difference between looking at the federal problem of illegal immigration and any state’s problems associated with illegal immigrants already living side-by-side with citizens – and this difference, at least in the current public dialogue, isn’t altogether understood by policy makers.
At Sutherland, we have tried to focus on the latter scenario. Given that Utah has zero power over the federal jurisdiction regarding illegal immigration, state policies necessarily must focus on how Utahns cope with illegal immigrants already living here. In this context Utahns have two options: first, we could be unwelcoming, hunt them down and report them to federal authorities until they are all removed, or starve them out until they leave on their own; or, second, we could be welcoming, make the best of a difficult situation, help lift them to the surface of society, and view them as fellow human beings not much different than the rest of us.
The Sutherland Institute has written extensively on this issue and we have chosen the latter path. In fact, we have argued that the authentic conservative position in Utah is the latter path.
Just the other day, two of my Sutherland colleagues presented a recent in-house publication before the Immigration Interim Committee in Park City. The Committee agenda was filled with anti-immigration advocates who had been waiting to be heard by the Committee – and us. While I was not there physically (which was probably a good thing as I’ll explain) my colleagues reported to me that the evening was very contentious when Sutherland stepped to the microphone.
There are two particular points to note. First, retiring State Senator Bill Hickman, primary author of SB 81, was not fond of Sutherland’s conclusions. I should also point out that there was no dispute in the meeting over the findings in our new report – only dispute over our conservative philosophy on immigration. Hickman was particularly dismayed by our position that “we should welcome all people of good will to our state.” This sentiment, he said, he didn’t understand.
Here is the sentiment: as explained, we have two policy options at our disposal – we will be, as a people and a society, unwelcoming or welcoming. Frankly, the choice for us is easy. We have fought two world wars against enemies who employed the tactics of the former option – round up people and starve out people – and that option we are not willing to choose.
A second point of interest during the Committee meeting was State Representative Chris Herrod’s presentation that seemed to be focused exclusively as a response to the Sutherland essay last May. Full of quotes from LDS Church leaders (odd for a public meeting where many non-LDS folks were in attendance) to justify a strict “rule of law” approach, Rep. Herrod’s presentation projected the sentiment of most anti-immigration advocates: what don’t we understand about the word illegal?
Of course, the response is that the rule of law must be reflective of human experience and human nature and, as Sutherland’s May essay explained, the narrow view of anti-immigration advocates in Utah reflects neither.
As policy, the Sutherland Institute sees only one reasonable option, if a primary goal of ours is to make Utah an example of good government to the rest of the nation – welcome all people of good will to our fine state. The federal government with Constitutional jurisdiction over the issue of immigration, legal or otherwise in all its facets, will do what it will do. Utahns, dealt the cards of failed federal policies, must do what we will do – the right thing, the authentic conservative thing, the humane thing, the productive thing – and make the best out of a difficult situation.