There’s a difference between looking at the federal problem of illegal immigration and any state’s problems associated with illegal immigrants already living side-by-side with citizens – and this difference, at least in the current public dialogue, isn’t altogether understood by policy makers.
Given that Utah has zero power over the federal jurisdiction regarding illegal immigration, state policies necessarily must focus on how Utahns cope with illegal immigrants already living here. In this context Utahns have two options: first, we could be unwelcoming, hunt them down and report them to federal authorities until they are all removed, or starve them out until they leave on their own; or, option two, we could be welcoming, make the best of a difficult situation, help lift them to the surface of society, and view them as fellow human beings not much different than the rest of us.
The common perception is that political conservatives would choose option one – what we can call the “rule of law” approach. But, in fact, I would argue that option two is the authentic conservative position. It recognizes America’s and Utah’s historic commitment to immigration, it correctly interprets the rule of law, and it does not objectify our fellow human beings.
The State Legislature’s Immigration Interim Committee recently met in Park City. The Committee agenda was filled with anti-immigration advocates who had been waiting to be heard by the Committee. To say that meeting was contentious would be an understatement – especially when my two Sutherland Institute colleagues stepped up to the microphone.
Two items stood out. First, retiring State Senator Bill Hickman was not fond of Sutherland’s conclusions. He was particularly dismayed by its position that “we should welcome all people of good will to our state.” That sentiment, he said, he didn’t understand.
So let’s explain that sentiment in a way that even Senator Hickman can understand. Utahns have two policy options at our disposal – we will be, as a people and a society, unwelcoming or welcoming. That choice is easy for me. We have fought two world wars against enemies who employed the tactics of Option One – round up people and starve out people – and that’s not an option I am willing to choose.
A second point of interest during the Committee meeting was State Representative Chris Herrod’s presentation. Full of quotes from LDS Church leaders to try to justify a strict “rule of law” approach, Rep. Herrod’s presentation projected the sentiment of most anti-immigration advocates: what don’t the rest of us understand about the word illegal?
Of course, the response to that question is that a just rule of law must be reflective of human experience and human nature and the narrow view of anti-immigration advocates in Utah reflects neither.
Authentic conservatives will see that only one reasonable option exists – we will welcome all people of good will to our fine state. The federal government with Constitutional jurisdiction over the issue of immigration, legal or otherwise in all its facets, will do what it will do. Utahns, dealt the cards of failed federal policies, must do what we will do – the right thing, the authentic conservative thing, the humane thing, the productive thing – and make the best out of a difficult situation.