Immigration reform: Glimpse of the future in Arizona and Utah?
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.
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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. She estimates that the backlash against Arizona’s SB 1070 cost state businesses more than $200 million in lost convention and conference business – not including the ripple effect of lost jobs, earnings, and tax revenue.Skip to next paragraph
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The law required local and state law-enforcement officials to check the immigration status of those they suspected were illegal immigrants, though the most controversial aspects have never been implemented because of a legal challenge now in federal court.
The Arizona business community, which did not lobby against SB 1070, was instrumental in the defeat of the suite of bills that included the measure to deny birthright citizenship, state business leaders say.
“I think the business community here has had a long overdue impact on this,” says Todd Landfried, spokesman for the Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. “The people in the business community finally said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and told the Senate president that moving these bills forward now is damaging us.”
“At a time when businesses are moving out of the state and people are getting laid off, this is not good for the economy or the people of Arizona,” he adds. “We have to stop this.”
Utah's 'pragmatic' approach
Some Hispanic activists say Utah is merely attempting to be more practical.
“Utah is taking a more pragmatic and economic approach to address the complex and controversial immigration debate,” says Randy Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena, Calif. “They learned from Arizona.”
Utah’s guest-worker program, for example, is a pipeline for cheap, temporary labor from Latin America.
“This will eventually benefit the Utah economy, similar to how the Bracero Program benefited the national US economy by having cheap immigrant labor to work the US agricultural fields” from 1942 to 1964, says Mr. Ertll. “Therefore, Utah is pushing the envelope and adopted George W. Bush's federal ideology of a guest-worker program to be implemented at the state level.”
Some experts claim that Utah’s plan, like SB 1070, will not pass constitutional muster because it treads on Washington’s turf: Immigration is a federal issue. But Utah’s willingness to attempt reforms like guest-worker programs, which are anathema to many conservative Republicans, is significant.
Says Ms. Kelley: “It doesn’t get any redder than Utah.”