Monday, January 24, 2011

Immigration Reform in Utah

Monday, January 24, 2011 marked the beginning of the 59th General session of the Utah State Legislature. The opportunities that rest in the hands of our elected officials are extraordinary. What happens during this general session of the legislature will affect people’s lives for years to come. The question is whether that effect will be positive or negative.

There are many issues facing the State Legislature in 2011. From immigration to health care reform, education to taxes, equal opportunity to reproductive freedom. These issues are not without debate. More often than not, we see these issues become heated and divisive. The tone with which these issues are discussed is important. Our representatives have the opportunity to showcase their great talent and intellect in the State Legislature, but also to keep the political rhetoric civil and respectful, as well as protect the civil liberties of all Utahns.

One issue that has not only been a subject of intense debate in our state but also nationally, is immigration. ACLU of Utah maintains that immigration reform is a federal issue. However it is clear that the State of Utah is addressing its concerns about immigration, legislatively.  In 2006, The U.S. Immigration Report estimated that Utah is home to more than 200,000 immigrants, representing Mexican, Canadian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Polynesian, El Salvadorian, Korean, Yugoslavian, and other communities. These are people who have invested in Utah values. They want to give their families the same great opportunities we enjoy as Utahns. Within the issue of immigration are the complexities of family, education, economy and health care. As Utahns, we expect our elected officials to use both the rule of law and compassion when debating immigration and protecting the civil liberties of all Utahns. We already know the direction Arizona took in dealing with immigration. The question remains whether Utah will choose a different, more respectful path in regards to the civil liberties of immigrants in Utah.

In our state there are also undocumented immigrants who are in desperate pursuit of a better life. Most undocumented immigrants are searching for a better existence in a nation that will afford them the opportunities to learn, work, and raise their families with dignity. It is important to remember that undocumented immigrants also enjoy some constitutional civil liberties. No matter the immigration legislation that comes out of the 2011 general session of the Utah State Legislature, those civil liberties must be respected, maintained, and protected.

Everyone living in Utah today is touched in some way by immigration. Immigrants to this state learn with us in our schools, worship with us in our churches, and work with us in our jobs. They play on our sports teams and dance with us in our recitals. They live in our neighborhoods and are very much a part of our communities. What happens to them happens to the rest of us. That’s why citizens should speak up and reach out to their representatives and senators and tell them that damaging immigration legislation is damaging to every Utahn.

Immigration is just one of the many issues facing debate in the State Legislature this year. When dealing with immigration, it is our hope that each State Senator and State Representative will choose to protect the civil liberties of all Utahns.

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