A Time of Thanksgiving: Reflections on The Utah Compact

Originally published in Utah Business.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more.” – Melody Beattie

Three years ago this month, a large and diverse group of community leaders gathered at the Utah State Capitol to affix their names to The Utah Compact. For those in attendance, the Utah sun beamed a little brighter that day as our community adopted a more gracious approach to the complex issue of immigration reform. Since then, Utah has followed a more compassionate, constructive and civil immigration discussion that has lifted Utah to a higher, better place and set an example for others. For this we can all be grateful.

A few days after the signing of the Compact, a grandmother from Farmington submitted a letter to the Deseret News Readers’ Forum that captured the spirit of the document:

“I don’t know much about politics except the sick feeling I get inside when there is constant arguing. I don’t know economics except I pay my bills and I keep a balanced checkbook. I don’t know how to settle debates, but I know a peaceful heart when I have one. I felt it when I read the Utah Compact.”

Her sentiment was echoed a few days later in a New York Times editorial on the Compact that said, “A clearer expression of good sense and sanity than Utah’s would be hard to find.” Later, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted Utah’s Ronald Reagan-like support of free-market principles in finding an immigration solution.

Building off this momentum, the Utah Legislature passed landmark legislation in the 2011 Legislative Session that balanced the need for improved enforcement with the very real economic and human needs associated with immigration reform. A dozen other states have borrowed from or flat out copied the Compact.

For people like me who have trafficked in public policy in this town for a long time, it’s difficult to explain the reach and success of The Utah Compact. In less than 250 words, it set a new direction for what before had been an intractable issue. Simple, short, value-based and inspirational, it called out five principles: federal solutions, public safety, families, the economy and free society. From this, a harmonization occurred. Community leaders became more collaborative, civil society became more civil and Capitol Hill discussions became more constructive.

Looking back, I believe the Compact’s greatest virtue was its authenticity. Utahns watched as border states like Arizona passed enforcement-only immigration laws, hurt their economy and tarnished their reputation as a welcoming state in the process. We asked ourselves the question, “Is this who we are?”

The Utah Compact answered this question. It reminded us that devotion to family is for us a cherished virtue. Utahns put families first. It clarified that people of goodwill should always be welcome in this state. We are, after all, a state that was settled to escape unfairness and persecution. It emphasized that we believe in individual freedom and opportunity. Yes, we are the people who transformed a desert province into the crossroads of the west. It reaffirmed our global reputation as a friendly and welcoming state. We hosted the world in 2002 and showcased the friendliness of our people. Most importantly, it spoke to what I hope is our most dominant value—the way we treat other human beings.

Human kindness is and should remain Utah’s most important virtue.

There will be those who will criticize people like me for allegedly not giving proper emphasis to the rule of law. To this I will just say that illegal is a word I prefer to associate with an activity rather than a human being. We need the United States Congress to fix our laws.

And to be clear…violent criminals and people living in the United States in bad faith should be caught, prosecuted and sent out of the country. End of story.

For immigrants of goodwill, let’s remember that America made room for us. The Utah Compact reminds us that we should find a way in America to help others have a better life.

If you agree, visit www.TheUtahCompact.com and sign on. Implore Congress and whoever is elected president to pass comprehensive immigration reform next year. And show your gratitude for others this Thanksgiving season.