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Drafter of Utah Compact calls document 'gold standard' for fixing nation's immigration problems

SALT LAKE CITY — Some players in the national immigration reform movement are calling it a "kairos moment."

They say there is national momentum — and an opening — to push Congress to reform the nation's unworkable immigration laws in 2013.

Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based conservative public policy think tank, said he intends to tell members of Utah's congressional delegation during visits Wednesday to seize that opportunity and to use the Utah Compact as a guide.

"I'm going to tell them, 'You guys have a great opportunity to lead in Congress. You come from the state that has for now created the gold standard how you solve this problem,'" Mero said.

The now 2-year-old Utah Compact outlines principles to guide the state's immigration debate, urging federal solutions and policies that do not separate families. The original signers of the document included business, religious, government and community leaders.

The document's five planks include federal solutions, law enforcement, families, the economy and a free society.

For Utah's elected leaders to bury their heads in the sand would be "an embarrassment," said Mero, who helped draft the Utah Compact and was among the first Utahns to sign it.

"We've already written the text. The narrative is there. Just follow it, and put it on a national stage," Mero said during the National Immigration Forum's National Strategy Session conducted Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Some 450 faith, law enforcement and business leaders are taking part in the meetings to urge the incoming Congress and the Obama administration to make immigration reform a priority in 2013.

Tuesday's strategy session capped a series of summits nationwide, one of which was hosted by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in Salt Lake City in October 2011.

Shurtleff said 2013 is a "kairos moment" for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The attorney general said he hopes the national debate can be elevated to the point that leaders recognize the issues are foremost about people and human dignity.

For example, Shurtleff said, "The use of the word 'anchor baby' when we're talking about a child of God is offensive."

Unfortunately, the first casualty of the national immigration debate "has been the truth," he said.

"The only way you pass Arizona-style laws is misinformation and flat-out lies," Shurtleff said.

Utah Compact and subsequent passage of more measured state immigration laws solidified Utah as a leader in the national discussion, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

While Noorani was aware of these efforts, his perception of Utah's role in the national debate was confirmed during a chance meeting on an airplane with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Noorani used the opportunity to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Sebelius asked him if he had heard of the Utah Compact.

"I said, 'Well, yes I have,'" Noorani said.

Sebelius told him, "What they've done in Utah is change the debate."

Kenneth McClure, counsel for the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, said the Utah Compact "defined a higher moral ground. It did it in a way that was inoffensive and nonthreatening."

While Idaho officials declined to develop their own compact, the Utah document was "nevertheless useful in identifying higher ground," McClure said.