The statement of guiding principles on immigration policy known as the Utah Compact is now nearly a decade old, but perhaps more relevant than ever in outlining a way to address the abundant failings of the current immigration system which, by universal agreement, is broken.
When originally signed in 2010, the compact was celebrated as a visionary approach to forging bipartisan compromise. It retains that potential, if not for the recalcitrance of current political leaders and the myopia of hardline factions who condemn it as a vehicle for amnesty and the flouting of the rule of law.
The compact was never intended to serve as the framework for specific reform, but as a way to enlighten and enhance the policy discussion. As The New York Times editorialized at the time, “A clearer expression of good sense and sanity than Utah’s would be hard to find.” Nine years on, rationality and lucidity remain scarce in the immigration debate, and divisions over policy directions, fueled by partisan gamesmanship, grow wider.
It is frustrating that even the rare attempt at bipartisan compromise is derailed in the miasma of ideological warfare over whether reform measures can be perceived as “too lenient.” A case in point is the stalled legislation to reform immigrant visa quotas put before Congress by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and California Sen. Kamala Harris. By most accounts, the co-sponsors reside on nearly opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet their Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act was blocked by a parliamentary maneuver that prevented it from enjoying any kind of healthy debate.
Open and vigorous debate among partisan opponents is precisely what is now needed, and exactly what the Utah Compact calls for.
A critical component of the compact is its declaration in favor of a “humane” approach, as it states: “The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors.” That rings true amid disturbing accounts of immigrants held in less than humane conditions in detention centers. There is justifiable anxiety over how families are separated, and small children are often held in isolation. It’s uncomfortable to imagine that in the future we may end up regarding the current situation as anything close to acceptable.
The situation at the border exists because of the stubbornness of political leaders to look past the immediate political playing field to find areas of reform — in all areas of immigration policy. Sadly, it even appears there are deliberate efforts to keep the flames of division alive to exploit political advantage.
The Utah Compact is premised on the belief that Americans want the nation to move forward in positive ways to find a reasonable architecture for future immigration policy, in which all elements of reform are fairly and openly discussed. That would include humanitarian concerns as well as overall economic impacts and the effects on law enforcement, the judiciary and community safety.
We believe the hunger for such a discussion is as urgent and real as it was nine years ago when Utah rose up with the compelling notion that the many divides on this issue can be bridged by good will and open minds.