US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Immigration laws: Set aside in Arizona, taken up in Utah

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The New York Times editorially said Arizona “flinched” on immigration. A package of repressive laws introduced in the state senate by its president, Sen. Russell Pearce, were rejected in committee after the business community warned that a hostile attitude toward Hispanics is not good for the state’s economy.

The laws included provisions which would forbid the issuance of a birth certificate for a child born to undocumented parents, require hospitals and schools to note the immigration status of those getting state benefits, criminalize driving of a car in the state by an undocumented person, and make it harder for them to go to a state college.

The blowback from SB1070 has cost Arizona from $15 million to $150 million, according to an estimate of the state Chamber of Commerce. Prominent business leaders signed a letter to the senate asking to set aside the bills. A senate committee did. Money talks, if not convictions.

Senate President Russell Pearce, who came to fame with SB1070, was displeased, but now is confronting a challenge in his own home district. He represents much of the city of Mesa, where the city’s Human Relations Advisory Board is holding hearings on the Utah Compact. This hardly blends with Pearce’s confrontational and repressive style.

The Compact, which was signed into law last week with a prominent leader of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) looking over his shoulder, grants residency to undocumented workers and their families and even initiates an agreement with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to bring more workers into the state. Republicans, who are beginning to read the census numbers, fear alienating the Hispanic vote and are looking for a middle ground that won’t make them look anti-immigrant—while still appeasing the Tea Party.

While the Utah Compact is a step back from SB1070, it is coupled with a SB1070 look-a-like, however toned down. They call it the “Utah solution,” only it solves nothing. As the New York Times points out, it has a major problem, and ironically it’s the same argument against SB1070: Immigration and residency are federal turf.

Utah now has to ask the federal government to make an exception for allowing the undocumented to stay and work in Utah. Also the negotiation of a work agreement with Nuevo Leon is founded on an already flawed worker visa program—so much so an immigration activist called it “amnesty with exploitation.” Some immigrant activists still welcome the Compact, if not its sibling, as a sign that the immigration debate may be cooling off. At least it’s another pressure on the president and Congress to move on comprehensive reform, especially as the Tea Party is tied up with slashing budgets and regulations.