Business, badges and bibles – immigration reform takes center stage on Capitol Hill

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012 at 7:00 am and is filed under Chamber News, Immigration, Public Policy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Photo credit: Jack Gordon

Editor’s note: Salt Lake Chamber Chief Economist Natalie Gochnour joined leaders from 26 other states in Washington, D.C., this week calling upon Congress to pass landmark immigration reform in 2013. To see the statement Natalie made, see this blog. In this blog she shares several observations from the visit to the nation’s capital.

The National Immigration Forum advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to our nation. This past week they convened approximately 260 conservative leaders from 26 states in our nation’s capital to participate in a national strategy session.  Billed as a gathering of people who own a business, wear a badge and carry a bible, the Forum sponsored a news conference at the National Press Club and arranged dozens of personal visits with legislative leaders on Capitol Hill. I was pleased to join Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero, and Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank in representing Utah business and community leaders at this event. Here are a few personal observations from the visit:

Utah looms large
Utah is a small state, but in immigration reform we loom large. The Utah Compact – short, simple, inspirational and values-based – has been replicated in some way in a dozen states. Several more are borrowing from its wisdom.

The catalyst for The Compact came from my good friend and colleague Jason Mathis (executive director of the SLC Downtown Alliance, a strategic partner of the Salt Lake Chamber). Jason has many incredible talents, but two of those are his pragmatism and his compassion. He saw the value in binding diverse constituencies together under the banner of an inspirational document. Once he provided the spark, the correctness of the flicker became a fire.

Now The Utah Compact provides a compass of sorts to the likes of Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Robert Menendez, Sen. Lindsey Graham and our own Sen. Mike Lee as they help craft immigration reform legislation. It’s one thing to hear The Utah Compact praised from within the state; it’s a completely different experience to hear powerful senators in our nation’s capital call it by name.

In my experience, Utah has a way of leading out on intractable and complex issues. The Utah Compact in immigration, the Utah Health Exchange (now Avenue H) in health care, Envision Utah in quality growth, TRAX and FrontRunner in regional transportation, and the Utah Legislature in fiscal responsibility, to name just a few.

Evangelicals come out in force
I knew that the Mormon culture shared a connection with others in the interfaith community in fixing our broken immigration system, but I have never personally observed the eloquence, devotion and power of the likes of the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical groups.

I used to walk the halls of the U.S. Capitol with a member of the president’s Cabinet. It’s not hard to recognize star power when you are next to it. But I noticed more heads turned when I walked the halls with a prominent pastor with the Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist Convention claims 16 million members and is the largest Christian body in the U.S. outside of the Catholic Church. After spending a day canvassing Congress with the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelicals, I more completely understand their political power.

One evangelical leader focused on the Christian symbol of the cross when he spoke of immigration reform. He said the cross stands vertical to connote that we “stand connected to God and His kingdom” and horizontal to the left and the right to reflect our “connection to the human family, society and community.” The same pastor closed his remarks at the National Press Club by saying, “Passing immigration reform is not about advancing the agenda of the donkey or the elephant. Immigration reform is about living out the agenda of the Lamb.”

Tax pledges meet immigration reform
Grover Norquist addressed a morning breakfast of conservative leaders who support immigration reform. His voice was hoarse–I’m guessing because as the author of the no-tax pledge that many in the Congress signed he is spending a lot of time talking about the fiscal cliff. I was pleasantly taken aback to see him step over into the immigration front.

Norquist is a talented orator. He told the audience that conservatives have lost their way when it comes to immigration policy. It’s as if this aspect of Ronald Reagan has been forgotten. He challenged the conservatives in attendance to help the Republican Party become, once again, a part of inclusion… a big tent party.

I liked the sound of that.

My prediction for 2013
Members of Congress that I met with said immigration reform has momentum. The rumblings are quickly turning into real proposals and a strategy to make something happen.

I’m certain Sen. Hatch will be important to these efforts. He knows how to get bipartisan bills passed, and he’s been a leader on immigration legislation in the past.

Sen. Lee also plays a pivotal role. He represents the bright, young and influential crop of senators who will be necessary to lead a coalition. Reading pundits talk about Sen. Lee in this way is one thing, hearing Sen. Schumer, who is on point for the Senate majority leader, express it in person is another. All of the influential and veteran legislators we met with spoke of Sen. Lee as a key player in getting immigration reform done.

Sen. Lee was kind enough to meet with our delegation and clearly will be a go-to guy for not only for Utah business leaders, but other constituencies in the immigration discussion. For this we can all be grateful.

Photo credit: Jack Gordon

Thank you Attorney General Mark Shurtleff
Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is a big guy, standing I would guess about 6’5″ tall. After spending three days with him in our nation’s capital, he stands taller than ever in my eyes.

Advocating for immigration reform, speaking in fluent Spanish and quoting Ceasar Chavez’s memorable words, he said:

We should always walk like one family.

We are all in the same cause and need.

Together we make up the same future. 

Alone we are not worth anything. 

Together, we have great value.

Attorney General Shurtleff will finish his public service to our state in a matter of days. But his legacy and service to our state will continue for years to come as he plays a pivotal role for our country in helping to pass landmark immigration reform next year.


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