The most important piece of legislation Bill Wright ever sponsored might have cost him his political career. It also might end up in a courtroom trash can. But he’d do it all over again.

Bill Wright

The deep purple buds are emerging from the knee-deep morass of alfalfa on Bill Wright’s land. That means it’s time to cut the hay, so the 65-year-old farmer and part-time legislator is sitting in the middle of his field, perched on the bed of a filthy 1991 Ford pickup, waiting for a seven-tower irrigation pivot to crawl across the plot his son will scythe today.

He pulls the tattered brim of his ball cap low over his forehead and gestures to the far end of his field, which lies off of Highway 50 in the sunset shadow of Utah’s House Range and the distinctive pinnacle known as Notch Peak.

“I saw some deer out there this morning,” Wright says with a thin-lipped smile.

On some days he might trudge out to chase them away. Between what they eat and what they trample, deer can do a lot of damage to an alfalfa field. But there were only a few of them this morning—and in any case, it’s the elk that cause the most trouble—so today, Wright is content to live and let live. 

In McCornick, life feels simple. The way Wright—a Republican state representative from rural Millard County—sees it, everything should be that way. And if you’re looking for the spark that lit what was likely the most important piece of lawmaking in Wright’s career, that might be all you’ll find. 

Wright thought it was pretty simple: It seemed fair. That made it the right thing to do. That, he says, is how decisions are made on the range. 

But a year and a half after Wright managed to push one of the most liberal pieces of immigration reform through one of the most conservative legislatures in the nation, none of its provisions have yet taken effect. It’s very possible they never will. Standing before Wright’s law—which would put the state in charge of issuing guest worker visas to immigrant laborers—is a delicate negotiation with the federal government, a likely constitutional challenge and resolute opposition. 

And when those clamoring to repeal the law bring the matter back before the Legislature next year, they won’t have to face down the burly old farmer. In June, Wright was bumped from his bid for re-election by fellow Republican Merrill Nelson, an attorney who was starkly critical of the incumbent’s immigration solution.      

That’s left tens of thousands of Utah residents—those caught between two worlds in a sometimes surreal legal purgatory—waiting, wondering, hoping and praying that someday, some way, some simple farm sense will prevail.

Next>>Part 2: Beyond Borders

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