I am an educator with 30 years in the profession and living professionally with the mantra of always putting ALL children first. I attended the House Education Committee hearing of HB7. I was particularly intrigued by the comments of Rep. Jim Ferrin. He said that he was going to vote for the bill, although admitting that, "I hate this bill; I hate this issue. But I am going to hold my nose and vote for it. . . . It's heartbreaking, but America is not the land of opportunity for those who come here illegally. We educate them, but they can't work here. . . . What does it do to become a doctor and then have to clean house."
Frankly, that is a message that resonates with many. And yet, he and a majority of our Legislature voted for this law, which he now wants to repeal, just a few short years ago. He was not hanging his hat on either side of the debate about the law's legal status, as depicted in the difference of opinion expressed between Utah's attorney general and the University of Missouri law professor, Kris Kobach. Ferrin's dividing line was legality and adherence to law, but somehow, despite that stated distinction, he still had to "hold his nose." That odor derives from the lack of the stomach to do the right thing, to maintain a system where some members of our society are relegated to the most demeaning of jobs, regardless of individual abilities.
Efforts to do what is right must be done in partnership with others, each needing to rely on the other to do their part. The Dream Act is not yet law at the national level, but our own Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Cannon are on record as supporting it, and it is on the move again. Bush wants "a rational, humane guest worker program." These efforts would strengthen and enhance our own existing law to help children of undocumented workers give back to America and Utah some of what they have gained by attending our schools and living here.
Decrying the need to support these kids but laying the blame on Washington is too glib and easy a scapegoat. We must do our part. The Legislature has. They must not reverse course simply because Washington is slow to keep its promise — we must continue to keep ours.
After 9/11, students applying for student visas from foreign countries must agree to leave America after they finish college. That, despite our unfortunate dependence on foreign workers from the hard science and math fields to keep us on the cutting edge technologically. Less than 1 percent of the population of undocumented students have taken advantage of our state's forward-thinking law. This small group is the cream of this population. We will reject this huge human resource? We should be motivating them instead to go into the fields where they can do the most for themselves and this state, and recognize them for the valuable resource they are.
We should not demur to fear tactics from out-of-state lawyers but should use all tools we have to fight to educate and keep these children here legally; rather than decry the status quo, we should proactively improve it. Above all, we should not just wash our hands and decry the odor of our actions.
Dr. Kim Langton is CEO of Centro De La Familia in Salt Lake City.