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Mark L. Shurtleff: Republican Attorney General Of Utah Defies GOP Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

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When Dan Stein, the longtime President of the country’s leading conservative think-tank, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), got into a tiff on a radio talk program over Utah’s immigration law last year, he wasn’t having it out with a liberal, immigrant rights activist. Rather, the exchange was with Utah Attorney General and Republican, Mark L. Shurtleff.

Shurtleff tells The New York Times that “It’s only the loud, shrill voices we’ve been hearing. But I believe the majority of Republicans aren’t this shrill, anti-immigration, punish-’em-at-all-costs kind of mentality.”

A longtime Republican who supports GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and a Mormon who opposes abortion and President Obama’s health care reform, Shurtleff represents a break from the hardline stance of many prominent conservative politicians when it comes to immigration.

After the nation’s most stringent immigration law -- controversial Arizona bill SB-1070 -- passed last year, Shurtleff joined an unlikely coalition of law enforcement, community members, and faith leaders to draft the Utah Compact, a declaration of five principles that guide discussion over immigration in the state.

In sharp contrast with positions taken by fellow Republicans -- and asserting the Obama Administration's primary reason for challenging local anti-immigration bills -- the Utah Compact begins by stating "Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries -- not Utah and other countries."

Furthermore, the 2nd of the Compact's principles says that "Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code."

However, even enlightened hard-line positions on undocumented immigration, such as the Utah Compact, can run afoul of prevalent federal law.

In 2011, Utah officials passed House Bill 497, which was "modeled on Arizona's strict enforcement measure." In February of this year, a federal judge postponed deciding on the constitutionality of HB 497 until after other courts pass judgment on Arizona's SB 1070 law. Until then, the Utah law remains under an injunction.

Nonetheless, Latino columnist and a longtime leader in his state, Tony Yapias says the Attorney General is "“the most compassionate Republican I know.”

Last year, Utah also passed HB116, a guest-worker bill that would allow undocumented immigrants the right to work via a state-run visa, should they pass a background check and pay several fines. A federal court has upheld the law.

In February, the Utah State Senate did away with a bill that attempted to repeal HB116. Champions of the bill include Republican Senators Stuart Reid, chairman of the Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee, and Senate President Michael Waddoups.

Despite the rhetoric among the GOP Presidential hopefuls who are defining the tone of the immigration debate, not all conservatives are falling in line.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Utah Attorney General Mark L. Shurtleff and Dan Stein appeared on a radio program last week. They appeared on the Diane Rehm Show last year.

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