SALT LAKE CITY — A number of Utah civic leaders are reiterating their pledge to support immigration policies that bolster the state's economic future and consider the humanity of those caught in the confusion of the nation's unsettled immigration laws.
Business leaders, along with members of the state's law enforcement community, faith, legal and community advocacy declared their ongoing commitment Thursday to the Utah Compact on immigration — a set of principles originally released in 2010 that outline the need for well-conceived immigration strategies that will help drive the state economy forward and urge federal solutions and policies that do not separate families.
The document, signed by over 120 Utah leaders, "supports policies that strengthen Utah’s economy and attract the talent and business the state needs to be competitive," according to the website.
The reaffirmation of the compact was a show of solidarity by various segments of the community that are engaged in the effort to find solutions to the issues surrounding immigration in Utah, said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. He said part of the commitment by local leaders should be to "do no harm" by diffusing the vitriol that has continually derailed any progress within the immigration debate.
"(That kind of rhetoric) tries to pull people into political corners, and it's just not helpful to our economy, not helpful to families, not helpful to our society and it's certainly not helpful to driving toward a comprehensive immigration solution," he said.
Miller was among a small group of local leaders speaking during a news conference at the Salt Lake Chamber offices in downtown Salt Lake City.
The five principles to guide Utah's immigration discussion include federal solutions, law enforcement, families, economy and a free society. He noted that reaffirming those important principles laid out in the compact provides a positive signal to the community that Utah is being sensitive to family concerns, economic concerns and law enforcement concerns.
"All of these principles provide a lens through which this policy debate should occur," Miller said, adding that immigration policy and border security are national issues that Congress has failed to adequately address and the country needs lawmakers to act.
"Unfortunately, there are forces in politics today that are trying to drive people apart, trying to divide people," he said. "Our (state congressional) delegation is doing a good job of bringing people together. We need more members to do the same."
The Utah leaders hope to use their collective voice to call for federal immigration reform that produces practical policy solutions for Utah immigrants making significant contributions to the state economy, reaffirms Utah’s global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state and "secures the nation’s border while enforcing the country’s immigration laws," a news release states.
The Utah Compact symbolizes another move toward a statewide agreement for reform, the release states. Business and community leaders in Florida, Iowa and Texas have recently launched compacts on immigration in their respective states, demonstrating bipartisan support to advance rational immigration strategy.
Data from the New American Economy’s Map the Impact reveals the contributions immigrants make to the Beehive State’s economy. In 2017, immigrants in Utah paid $534.6 million in state and local taxes and held $5.3 billion in spending power, the analysis showed.
“Our state’s economy faces global challenges we must meet with effective immigration policy that balances security with the flow of people and goods across borders,” said Miles Hansen, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. “Smart immigration policy not only recognizes that Utah is best served by a free-market philosophy that maximizes individual opportunity, but it also helps us compete in the global marketplace by attracting the best talent and most industrious workers to our state."
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said his department is doing all it can to show immigrants that local police are committed to protecting everyone, no matter what their immigration status might be.
“Respect for the rule of law is fundamental for a society, but as law enforcement officers, our limited resources should be focused on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code," Brown said. "We serve the public, regardless of status. We need immigration reform that recognizes that many immigrants in Utah are law-abiding, valuable contributors to our community.”
He said the department wants to make sure all immigrants feel "safe and welcome" in Salt Lake City.
"We will never ask you about your status — ever," he said.
Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas — a Utah-based community advocacy organization — said the reaffirmation of the Utah Compact sends a good message that the state, business, law enforcement and religious leaders are backing the state's immigrant community.
"It's a good starting point in terms of the conversation," he said. "I'm encouraged by what (the compact) could bring in terms of potential policies and benefits to immigrant communities and to the state as a whole."