Editor's note: The following speech was delivered as part of a debate Friday night, Jan. 21, 2011, sponsored by the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank. The debate addressed the question of whether Utah should enforce immigration laws. Paul Mero is president of Sutherland.


Paul Mero

Thank you, Madame Chairman.

No. Of course, we're not going to enforce federal immigration laws. To do so would violate the proper role of government on every level. To do so violates the very idea of federalism that many of us in this state invoke to keep the federal government at bay on so many issues. It wasn't long ago that conservatives in this state knew what it meant to support their local police departments. They fought the federalization of state and local law enforcement. We like to invoke their honorable names when we take on the feds but here we are tonight, on this issue, dishonoring their legacy if we endorse this resolution.

Cross-deputization of state and local law enforcement to do a federal job is wrong in principle and wrong in practice. It is a waste of time and resources and its very notion violates our state sovereignty. Our pioneer forefathers could have saved us all time and simply welcomed General Johnston and his army to police the Great State of Deseret. Of course, we're not going to enforce federal immigration laws. We have no authority or power to deport people. We don't even have the means or wherewithal to round them up and detain them for 48 hours if we wanted to. Madame Chairman, our worthy opponents across this stage miss the point entirely. Utah is a sovereign state. That doesn't mean we're sovereigns over the United States of America, its federal laws, and its borders. It means we're sovereigns over the State of Utah. It means we can ensure our public safety, protect our freedoms, and promote our economic prosperity. We have the authority to do those things.

I wonder, Madame Chairman, how our two sides have grown so far apart and the more I ponder our differences the more I'm drawn to two basic elements of this entire debate.

The first element is the rule of law. I am fascinated by the pharisaical attachment our worthy adversaries have to the letter of the law and how they seemingly ignore the spirit of the law and the most fundamental aspects of justice. My mind's eye travels back to Jim Crow laws designed to subjugate and denigrate blacks in the Old South -- laws such as two sets of public water fountains, one for whites and one for coloreds, and who gets to sit where on a public bus. Those repugnant indignities occurred because the rule of law had fallen apart and otherwise decent people lived with broken-down laws because the very idea of segregation was a broken concept.

I fear the same illogical process is occurring now. We must understand that the "law follows the rule" and if the rule is flawed, our laws will be flawed. I'm guessing that's what's happened to the thinking of our esteemed opponents. They have the rule wrong and so their ideas about our laws are wrong as well. And here's how I know that.

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that all of the horribles about undocumented immigrants that our friends have passionately called to our attention here tonight are true. Their only solution, like Arizona's approach, is to punish people. Punishment is only one component of the rule of law and to focus so singly on that one component tells me that they simply don't understand what they're dealing with.

A good example of this lack of understanding comes from their fearless leader down in Arizona, State Senate President Russell Pearce. Senator Pearce is fond of saying, "Illegal immigration is not a race, it's a crime." And, of course, crimes must be punished. The fact is that a lack of legal status in the United States of America is not a crime, it's a civil violation such as speeding. Mr. Pearce has the law wrong because he has the rule wrong. Instead of something as simple as levying a fine, as we often do with speeding, the misguided senator has chosen to try and round up an entire population of people. That's how I know when someone doesn't understand the rule of law.

Tonight we've heard the sobering story of Lynette Weed's child whose identity has been stolen several times over. Evidently, punishment is the only component of the rule of law that will right this wrong. Don't fix the problem, just punish the person. How easy would it be to simply take legislative steps to restore the integrity of her child's identity, clear her record, and issue her a new Social Security card, and then work on fixing the big, structural problem with immigration policy that led to the identity theft? Instead, all we hear from our friends is punish people.

Punishment alone isn't justice and we need to be very careful about going down a path of enforcement-only. Those who wield the sword of justice need to ponder the consequences of their actions even more so than the wrongdoers. We don't want to become a society wherein those who enforce unrealistic or unjust, broken-down laws are more dangerous to our freedoms than those who break them.

History is replete with sad and horrific examples of where people have allowed themselves to compartmentalize a law from its consequences. We cannot justifiably say "well, that's the law, now go enforce it if the" legislative consequences of that law are to require our government to round up or starve out tens of thousands of our neighbors. We cannot allow ourselves to view the task of policy making in this regard as simply satisfying a technical law enforcement function. If we aspire to be anything close to virtuous, anything close to moral, it's imperative that we ask ourselves just what sort of laws we're being asked to enforce. This state was formed by people victimized because others compartmentalized laws from their consequences.

Madame Chairman, I had the pleasure of knowing both Ezra Taft Benson and W. Cleon Skousen. They were wonderful men who understood the rule of law. I know they are held in the highest esteem by many people, especially people who often agree with the positions of our opponents tonight. Here's what Ezra Taft Benson wrote about the proper role of government and the rule of law:

"An important test I use in passing judgment upon an act of government is this: If it were up to me as an individual to punish my neighbor for violating a given law, would it offend my conscience to do so? Since my conscience will never permit me to physically punish my fellowman unless he has done something evil or unless he has failed to do something that I have a moral right to require him to do, I will never knowingly authorize my agent, the government, to do this on my behalf." (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Proper Role of Government," God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 287.)

And this leads me to a second basic element that, I believe, describes another of our differences: Is it evil for anyone, anywhere in the world, to desire to live, work and raise their family in Utah? Our opponents tonight seem to imply that it is as they so thoroughly regale us with their list of horribles. But how can living here undocumented be evil when a lack of legal status isn't even a crime? Stealing a person's identity is wrong -- it's a felony -- but are we surprised this occurs to the arguable degree it does when our entire system of legal immigration is broken? Unjust, corrupted, and broken-down laws can create lawbreakers where they otherwise wouldn't exist. So when an entire nation is culpable for its bad laws -- and we're all to blame at some level -- how hard do we want to be on otherwise innocent people without first fixing unrealistic, impractical, broken-down laws?

Real crime, perpetrated with evil intent, is a different matter -- that we can do something about and we must. Documented or undocumented, real criminals need to be caught and punished appropriately. But being a real criminal has nothing to do with someone's legal status. And if we really want to start catching serious criminals within the undocumented immigrant community, the last thing we should do is introduce Arizona's approach to Utah. Every intelligent conservative knows that the power of community -- power of highly active and involved neighbors -- works best to keep crime down. We want our undocumented neighbors to rise to the surface of society where they can help keep our communities safe. An Arizona approach in support of tonight's resolution only serves to drive these neighbors underground where they're of no assistance.

We can see where support of tonight's resolution can lead. It leads to dismantling families and picking on women and children, especially the children who, through no fault of their own, now live in Utah. It leads us to assume the worst in people. We begin to demonize a whole community. A real crime committed by an undocumented immigrant starts to sound like all undocumented immigrants committed that crime, and that, in turn, starts to sound like all Latinos are criminals, and that starts to sound irrational.

I know our friends here tonight, in support of this resolution, don't want to sound irrational. I know they simply want to help and the first step in helping is to reject punitive actions based on broken-down, unrealistic laws. Bad laws cannot be our standard. At the very least, prudent lawmakers won't base their future ideas for new laws on bad laws.

Meanwhile, as the federal government is working toward solutions -- or until it ever does -- Utah can do what it can to maintain our public safety, protect our freedom, and promote our economic prosperity. We can help lift everyone to the surface of society where everyone is accountable to one another. We can turn suspicions into trust, unproductive behavior into productivity, and despair into hope.

Justice is most often served when we leave people with some hope. People without hope can become desperate and will resort to anything to survive. Undocumented immigrants might have come to Utah in desperation, but we shouldn't want them to remain desperate while they're here. Take their hope away, especially in a punitive manner, and we'll see many more problems before we ever see any lasting solutions.

During last year's Republican primary for the United States Senate seat, I interviewed Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee together and posed this question, "As Latter-day Saint men, let's say you're assigned to watch over your neighbor and his family. You get a call one night that their little child is sick. You go next door, minister to the child, and console the family. In that tender moment, this Hispanic family reveals to you that they're in the country illegally. Do you go back home and call federal authorities and turn them in?" Both candidates -- strict "rule of law" men, as they would define themselves -- answered "no they would not turn in their neighbor. Decent" people don't do that.

If those two men won't enforce federal immigration laws when the situation presents itself personally ... if the federal government itself can't or won't enforce broken-down federal immigration laws ... then why should we unwisely task state and local law enforcement with it?

Thank you, Madame Chairman.