NPR's Mara Liasson Omits Critics of 'Comprehensive' Immigration Reform in Utah Story

On Friday's Morning Edition, NPR's Mara Liasson conspicuously excluded conservatives who are opposed to "comprehensive" immigration reform proposals, such as those forwarded by former President George W. Bush, during a report on Utah's new and "milder" immigration law. Liasson emphasized the state's "conservative politics," but couldn't find any conservatives who opposed the law.

Host Renee Montagne introduced the correspondent's report by highlighting how "Arizona's tough immigration law has received extensive coverage, and there's been a lot of talk about similar measures in other states. Yet, one of Arizona's neighbors, also known for its conservative politics, has taken a very different approach." Liasson set up her report by underscoring Utah's conservative credentials: "If you were to choose a state that would allow illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work and drive without fear of deportation, you probably wouldn't pick Utah."

The first sound bite in the report, which came from Alfonso Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, backed up the NPR reporter's line: "We have to understand, Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country." Liasson continued that Aguilar, who worked under former President Bush as the head of the U.S. Office of Citizenship, "says the new Utah law shows Republicans can find a middle course." She followed this with a second clip from the Hispanic proponent of the law.

Liasson noted that "the governor of Utah signed a package of immigration bills. One is an enforcement law, milder than Arizona's, but still opposed by liberal immigration advocates. Another is a guest worker law, that's opposed by some conservatives as amnesty." But instead of tracking down such a conservative, she turned to the legislator who wrote that law, Utah State Representative Bill Wright, who "says he was just trying to deal with reality."

After playing a clip from the Republican politician, Liasson noted that "Wright's new Utah guest permit law says that if you pay a fine, have no criminal record, and are working, you can stay in Utah. This has thrilled immigration reform advocates, like Frank Sharry." The correspondent didn't give Sharry's left-of-center political affiliation at any point during her report, despite playing two sound bites from him.

It shouldn't be surprising that Liasson chose to omit tough conservative voices on the immigration issue, given her network's record of liberal bias.

The full transcript of Mara Liasson's report from Friday's Morning Edition:

RENEE MONTAGNE: Arizona's tough immigration law has received extensive coverage, and there's been a lot of talk about similar measures in other states. Yet, one of Arizona's neighbors, also known for its conservative politics, has taken a very different approach.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

Mara Liasson, NPR National Political Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgMARA LIASSON: If you were to choose a state that would allow illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work and drive without fear of deportation, you probably wouldn't pick Utah.

ALFONSO AGUILAR: And we have to understand, Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country.

LIASSON: Alfonso Aguilar runs the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. He says the new Utah law shows Republicans can find a middle course.

AGUILAR: The governor's Republican, the House and Senate are dominated by Republicans, and they saw what happened in Arizona. They passed an enforcement-only law. It has driven away investment, business, workers that the Arizona economy needs. So they [the Utah government] wanted to deal with enforcement, but balance it with measures that are more business-friendly, and that's exactly what they did.

LIASSON: Last Wednesday, the governor of Utah signed a package of immigration bills. One is an enforcement law, milder than Arizona's, but still opposed by liberal immigration advocates. Another is a guest worker law, that's opposed by some conservatives as amnesty. But State Representative Bill Wright, who wrote the law, says he was just trying to deal with reality. There are 11 million illegal immigrants in America, and they are not going to be deported.

UTAH STATE REPRESENTATIVE BILL WRIGHT: I'm of the opinion we really don't have the ability as a society to remove that large a portion of a segment from our society. A lot of these people are intertwined in our society. They have financial obligations. They have bank notes. They've bought houses. They contribute. They have jobs. So it is- let's operate on this premise.

LIASSON: Wright's new Utah guest permit law says that if you pay a fine, have no criminal record, and are working, you can stay in Utah. This has thrilled immigration reform advocates, like Frank Sharry.

FRANK SHARRY, FOUNDER, AMERICA'S VOICE: The Utah legislation is a very rough draft of what we call comprehensive immigration reform at the national level. It combines enforcement and a program to make those here legal. Frankly, what you have is, in a ruby-red state, some legislators and the governor and the Mormon Church and a conservative think tank leading the way towards a more enlightened approach on immigration.

LIASSON: Sharry's referring to the Utah Compact, a group convened with the governor's blessing, to come up with an alternative to the Arizona approach. Alfonso Aguilar hopes it will have an impact on the stalled immigration debate in Washington.

AGUILAR: We need a federal solution. Hopefully, this will pressure the government, the federal government, to do something.

LIASSON: Now, along comes Utah, asking the federal government to do something very soon. As Bill Wright explains, Utah needs the Obama administration to give it a waiver, so it can enact a guest worker law.

WRIGHT: Up to this point, the federal government has proved that they're null and void of any ideas. Because of the political environment there, they have not been able to accomplish it. We're asking them, take a look at this. We want some action. We want something done.

LIASSON: The last attempt at national immigration reform died in the Senate in December, and although the debate in Washington seems hopelessly polarized, there are Republicans who fear they can't win a presidential election if their party continues to be seen as anti-Hispanic, and President Obama may fear he can't face Hispanic voters in 2012 without trying again to fulfill his promise to pass immigration reform.

So, says Frank Sharry, how the administration responds to Utah's request for a waiver will be an important test.


SHARRY: At the end of the day, a fifty-state patchwork of policies isn't the solution. But in order to really change this debate, and show that there's a more sensible way to approach it, the Obama administration would be very wise to engage with the conservatives from Utah who want to move forward on this.

LIASSON: The White House has been planning to make another push for immigration legislation sometime in the next couple of months. Utah's new guest worker law could force the President to speed up his timetable. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center