State Immigration Compacts Signal Bipartisan Principles for Reform

Colorado is the latest state to publish guiding principles for federal immigration reform.
by | January 17, 2013

Immigration reform may be the federal government’s responsibility to resolve, but some states are trying to set ground rules for any legislative fix.

Spurred by a widely praised effort in Utah two years ago, groups in Arizona, Iowa and Indiana published principles for addressing the citizenship status of an estimated 11.5 million people who reside in the United States without a permanent visa. Colorado joined the club in December 2012.

Initially, the compacts came in response to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which directed police to ask for proof of citizenship from anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country unlawfully. Critics, such as the the American Civil Liberties Union accused the Arizona State Legislature -- and five other states that mimicked the Arizona law -- of codifying racial profiling.

The Utah Compact in 2010 stated the need for a federal solution, not new state laws; emphasized law enforcement’s need to focus on criminal activity, not civil infractions; acknowledged the importance of immigrants’ role in a thriving economy; and said Utah needed to remain a welcoming and humane place for immigrants.

A key feature of each state compact is its bipartisan membership , something Congress should try to replicate, said James Garcia, a spokesman for The Real Arizona Coalition.

The coalition, which produced a “platform” rather than a “compact,” includes a prominent state Republican, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, and a civil rights leader, Danny Ortega, the former chairman of National Council of La Raza.

“Everybody doesn’t agree on everything, but what we have proven thus far is that there is a way to sit down with a diverse array of viewpoints,” Garcia said. “This is a blueprint for what comprehensive immigration reform should look like.”

The state compacts are brief, short on specifics and nearly identical. Indiana’s includes an extra sentence about enhancing border security. Colorado’s, published in December 2012, explicitly calls for granting citizenship status for some illegal immigrants, so long as they are “of good character, pay taxes, and are committed to becoming fully participating members of our society and culture.”

Although the concepts are generally the same in the Colorado Compact, the language isn’t an exact copy of its predecessor in Utah.

“We were looking for a uniquely Colorado document,” said Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado. Bennet is one of eight U.S. senators teaming up to hammer out a deal on immigration reform in 2013.

Bozzi said the Colorado Compact was distinctive for its mention of a path to citizenship and its high-profile sponsors: two former governors, a former U.S. senator, and a mix of police, business chambers, agricultural associations, faith-based groups and hispanic advocacy organizations.

None of the state compacts spell out how Congress would secure its borders or create a path to citizenship.

“It was about putting guard rails around the discussion of immigration reform,” said Max Gonzales, who works for a Phoenix-based community development corporation that supports the Arizona Accord, another state compact.

“It’s not a policy prescription,” Bozzi said. “It’s an effort to get Congress to have a civil conversation about this.”

Gonzales said the state compacts are also significant for tying together two camps: those who want to fix the legal process for immigrants to become citizens and those who focus on increasing border security.

The Real Arizona Coalition’s platform, released last month, takes the concepts of the state compacts and fills in some of the blanks. For example, how should Congress define “secure borders”? The Coalition recommends following the “operational control” standard already practiced in Yuma, Ariz., San Diego and El Centro, Calif. It also outlines the beginnings of a process for obtaining permanent citizenship. Garcia, a co-founder of the group, said the platform stops short of enough detail to be a full-fledged bill -- though members were working with Arizona’s Congressional delegation to convert the principles into a law.


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