Why Trump’s latest immigration freeze defies the ‘Utah way’
The idea of barring immigrants from our nation and our state — without the legitimate justification of economic or public health concerns — does not reflect Utah’s unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion.
In a month chock-full of shocks and surprises, one event that came as less surprising — but nonetheless shocking — was President Donald Trump’s latest immigration suspension.
The executive order — er, tweet — came past 10 p.m. on April 20, proclaiming the president would soon be signing an order to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States,” a seemingly full-out rejection of all immigration to stop the spread of COVID-19.
That is, all immigrants who aren’t coming to work immediately in the “essential” fields — those who will take up jobs in health care, agriculture and even landscaping. The proclamation itself, which went public two days later, clarified the ban would only cut off those who wouldn’t provide economic gains during the pandemic and only offers temporary work visas to those who will.
An interesting rhetoric, indeed — especially when considering the original justification for the freeze stemmed from “a need to protect the jobs” of American citizens. If that’s the case, an immigration “freeze” for all but immediate workers negates itself, and it makes one wonder if the president’s order was motivated by economics, public health or simply politics.
If the proclamation’s motivation was to stop the spread of COVID-19, its tactics don’t add up. If it was to protect jobs, it again misses the mark, targeting the wrong group. The long-term effect of this ban is nothing more than a 60-day halt on our nation’s immigrant population seeking permanent residence.
That’s not the “Utah Way.”
It’s a far cry from the immigrant-friendly culture that Utah has begun to develop and embrace. At the present juncture, we’re a mere six months removed from the 10th anniversary of the Utah Compact on Immigration. Admittedly, at the current rate, these next months may very well feel like a decade — nonetheless, it will come, and the Compact will be as relevant as ever.
The Utah Compact is a set of principles drafted and approved by local civic, faith and business leaders in 2010 and reaffirmed last spring. Its straightforward approach and clear language — accentuated by five key points — make its commitment to “common-sense immigration reforms that will strengthen our economy” strikingly clear.
In short, the compact calls upon state leaders to recognize that immigration is a federal policy issue, not a state one; recognizes the rule of law; stands for the well-being of families and children; acknowledges the role of immigrants in the state’s economic sector; and pleads for the self-identification of Utah as a free society and a welcoming community.
The compact drew praise from local leaders and national pundits alike, including a hat-tip from The New York Times editorial board, who lauded that “a clearer expression of good sense and sanity than Utah’s would be hard to find.” Its impact went beyond news organizations, though; leaders in a number of other states soon followed suit, utilizing the Utah Compact as a guide in drafting their own.
One of the compact’s most adamant supporters is Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration.” His curiosity in Utah’s unorthodox immigration approach — a state which he originally perceived to be “white as white can be, conservative as conservative can get” — led him to travel to Utah, conduct extensive research and dedicate an overly complimentary chapter to the subject in his 2017 book.
His reaction? “At the beginning of this journey, I perceived (them) to be isolated and unwelcoming,” he wrote of Utahns. “In reality, it was one of the worldliest and most welcoming communities I had ever met.”
His use of the world “worldliest” probably isn’t what some Utahns would expect, but we’ll take the praise.
The Utah Compact showed a broad awareness of a global issue and an acute desire to address it head-on. Though the document comes out to a mere 214 words — a fourth of this column — its principles should continue to guide the debate over immigration in the state, especially in the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide immigration crisis.
If the president’s latest maneuver is only the beginning of a broader plan to reduce immigration, as some have suggested, the mantle will again fall upon Utah and other states to stand for those who bolster our workforce, strengthen our communities and share our values. As the compact aptly states, “The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors.”
Forget that Trump’s proclamation potentially violates international refugee protection standards or keeps us from obtaining talented front-line workers. Politics aside, the idea of barring immigrants from our nation and our state — without the legitimate justification of economic or public health concerns — does not reflect Utah’s “unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion.”
Noorani later praised Utah in addressing the immigration by allowing “culture and values (to defeat) politics and policy.”
It may soon be time for our culture and values to again shine through.