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This week I want to talk about the Utah State Republican Party’s platform on illegal immigration. In a little over two weeks, Utah Republicans will meet for their annual state convention. It’s not an election year, so most of the attention will be on electing officers and policy resolutions. I’m quite certain illegal immigration will be discussed.

Current party leaders should be commended for saying that one issue alone shouldn’t define an entire political party. But a few delegates want the state party to take a hard-line stand on illegal immigration and, for some, it is a litmus test for their support.

I thought it might be well for us to look at the party platform of Utah Republicans and see what it already says about the subject.

It starts off, “America is a stronger and better nation because of the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of legal immigrants….” I would say that’s true about immigrants generally, especially if we reflect on how all but Native Americans are immigrant stock. Of course, the use of the word “legal” immigrant sets the tone for the rest of the words to follow.

The plank goes on to say, “We believe that control of our borders is an urgent national security interest and our national sovereignty depends on those secure borders.” That’s hard to disagree with. I might add that too much of a focus on geographic borders and too little a focus on human characteristics in defining borders would be a mistake. I get that we have geographic borders. I’m concerned that many people don’t see that the American legacy is less about keeping people out and more about letting people in – and that the sort of people we desire share the same values of hard work, families and faith that made us great.

Republicans then add, “We oppose illegal immigration and all forms of amnesty, or legal status, for illegal immigrants.” Good. So do I. Unfortunately, there seems to be a difference of opinion about the word “amnesty.” For some Republican delegates the word amnesty means anything short of rooting out and forcibly deporting undocumented immigrants. That’s unfortunate because it’s imprudent and unrealistic – not to mention, simply wrong by definition.

The next line in the plank is, “We support suspending automatic U.S. citizenship to children born to illegal immigrant parents.” Ouch. Amending the 14th Amendment is a bad idea for more reasons than this aspect.

Next, “We oppose granting government benefits to those illegally present in the United States.” Hard to disagree with, although it implies that illegal immigrants are receiving government welfare benefits – which is already illegal.

The nest one is certainly controversial, “We oppose any temporary or ‘guest’ worker program that would offer an automatic path to citizenship.” But even though controversial, I agree with that. Nothing Utah has done to date allows for “an automatic path to citizenship.”

Lastly, Republicans have said, “We believe that current laws against employing illegal immigrants should be vigorously enforced, particularly to stem the now too common crime of identity theft in obtaining employment.” Again, I agree.

The problem with this statement in its entirety is that it’s very narrow in its scope of policy. For instance, that last statement about punishing Utah employers who might hire illegal immigrants. Some of these delegates would rather punish people than help Utah. That’s their rule of law. Maybe the better thing to do is actually support policies that lift everyone under the circumstances. I believe that HB 116 did that.

I think I could write a more precise statement about illegal immigration for Utah Republicans – one that emphasizes public safety, freedom and economic prosperity rather than the current one that emphasizes fear and anger.

Good luck to Utah Republicans on June 18. I pray they choose leadership over animosity.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.

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