Immigration Reform: Glimpse of the Future in Arizona and Utah?

By Wood, Daniel B | The Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

Immigration Reform: Glimpse of the Future in Arizona and Utah?


Wood, Daniel B, The Christian Science Monitor


The business community was instrumental in defeating an Arizona birthright-citizenship bill and passing a Utah guest-worker program, suggesting it could be a key force on immigration reform.

The opposite fortunes of two sets of immigration bills this week - one in Arizona and the other in Utah - suggest that the business community can play a potentially crucial role in shaping immigration legislation in states nationwide.

In Arizona, its opposition to five anti-illegal immigration bills, including a high-profile attempt to deny children of illegal immigrants birthright citizenship, played a pivotal role in turning several Republican state senators against the bills, which failed Thursday.

Meanwhile in Utah, business groups backed a suite of bills that included a measure to offer two-year work permits to undocumented immigrants under certain conditions and another to recruit guest workers from Mexico. The bills were signed into law Tuesday.

At a time when the Republican Party has taken an increasingly strident position against illegal immigration, the two votes - both in Republican-dominated states - suggest that the path to compromise on the issue might be through the business community, which often has strong ties to GOP lawmakers.

The so-called Utah Compact, for example, "has highlighted the degree to which businesses, law enforcement agencies, and community leaders can work together to address the comprehensive realities of immigration and ultimately influence legislative debate - at both the state and national levels," says Catherine Wilson, a political scientist at Villanova University who specializes in immigration issues.

The Utah Compact has been hailed as a potential model for compromise on illegal immigration. In addition to its provisions on undocumented workers, it also requires police to ask suspects arrested in connection with serious crimes about their immigration status.

"It was clearly the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce - and businesses more broadly - that were driving this bus," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, a group that favors restricting immigration.

In short, experts say, many businesses are wary of hardline anti- illegal immigration laws because they create controversy and deny access to cheap labor.

Arizona business rebels

Some 60 CEOs of Arizona businesses signed a letter to lawmakers begging them to stop passing harsh anti-illegal immigrant laws, says Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. …

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