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Utah's Approach To Immigration Could Be Trumped By New Administration

Six years ago, a group of community leaders came together to create a document called the Utah Compact, aimed at guiding the contentious debate over immigration reform.

Back in 2010, Americans were divided—much as they are today—over how best to reform the nation’s broken immigration system.

Lawmakers in Arizona had just passed its own strict laws allowing police officers to check papers of suspected undocumented immigrants during a stop or arrest.

Utahns, like Executive Vice President of the Salt Lake Chamber Jason Mathis, wanted the state to avoid such a confrontational approach. Joining together with government, business and religious leaders, they created the Utah Compact.

“It really just encouraged Utah’s leaders to really be thoughtful in an approach to immigration, and really be aware of the impacts that their decisions might have on our economy, on the immigrants themselves and on the communities we want to live in,” Mathis says.

It included five key provisions, including opposition to separating families and giving discretion to law enforcement. Mathis says the state has done a good job adhering to these principles.

“As a state, we’ve made decisions like giving in-state tuition to undocumented students who complete high school in Utah," he says. "We haven’t gone out of our way to break up families and deport people.”

Yet President-elect Donald Trump has advocated more hard line policies, and while Mathis says he’s hopeful the compact could serve as a template for Congressional Republicans, others are more skeptical.

“You would need to have people really championing the ideas that were behind the compact and willing to take them on as core aspects of their legislative activity, and I don’t think we’ve seen that from anyone from so far," says Chris Karpowitz, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University.


Karpowitz says that ultimately, immigration is a federal issue, and there are limits to what states can do.

Trump has promised in his first 100 days to initiate deportation proceedings for up to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds and work with Congress to build a wall along the border of Mexico.

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