It's 10 days old, but I just stumbled across a very interesting USA Today article with meat on the immigration debate. While telling no heart-tugging tales of personal or community destruction because of stupid immigration law enforcement, it does present an interesting picture, without any obvious ideological red meat for either side of the immigration debate, of how a certain community is adjusting to a huge influx of immigrants: largely Mormon (62 percent, though falling) Utah.
Utah allows the undocumented to drive legally with a "driving privilege card." They can attend public colleges and universities and pay in-state tuition. Minorities–mostly Hispanics–make up 16.5% of the population, up from 8.8% in 1990. They could reach 20% by 2010. Hispanics are driving the growth among minorities here. The state's black and Asian populations also are growing but more slowly.
Utahans in 2004 gave President Bush his biggest margin over Democrat John Kerry in any state—72% to 26%. How can one of America's most conservative places be so receptive to immigrants?
"The LDS faith believes you can be conservative and yet be compassionate," says Marco Diaz, past chairman of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, which tries to attract more Hispanics to the party. "Help thy neighbor and love thy neighbor and still try to be fiscal conservatives."
How long Utah will embrace this philosophy remains to be seen……About 100,000 of Utah's foreign-born residents—about half—are here illegally, says Pamela Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah.
It's not like Utah is an open-border paradise; though it does seem as if the community, like America as a whole, is caught up in some cognitive dissonance about what actually constitutes the country they live in and their dreams of how tough immigration law might work; in this year's Utah Senate primary
Incumbent congressman [Chris] Cannon, who narrowly won the Republican primary in June, says, "The whole race was about immigration." His opponent was political newcomer and millionaire real estate developer John Jacob, who favored sending illegal immigrants home before giving them a chance at citizenship and punishing employers who hire them.
Cannon is far from liberal on the issue. He voted for a bill that would make helping illegal immigrants a crime and illegal residency a felony. But he supports President Bush's proposed guest-worker program. Cannon and Jacob are Mormon.
"It's better for America to be proud of America and not take harsh views of the world," Cannon says. "I hope Utah is one of these places where we dampen the harshness."……The state's Hispanic population soared to about 270,000 in 2005, up 33.1% since 2000. Hispanics contributed about a quarter of the state's growth in the 1990s.
So, given the narrow range of opinion on immigration as represented in the state's GOP Senate primary, do the people of Utah really want 100,000 of their fellow residents shipped away as felons? Including, say, the ones working for them, or working at the stores they frequent, or building the homes or offices they might live and work in, or their kids school pals? I hope Utah, and America, never has to resolve this dilemma between their professed anger about scofflaw immigrants and the way their economy and community is actually constituted these days; or if they must, that the anger, not the people, gets deported.
Headline allusion from Randy Newman's song "Beehive State"–the best song I've ever heard about American democracy.