Peg McEntee: Beattie’s right — it’s time to act on immigration

By peg mcentee

Tribune columnist

Published: April 11, 2013 08:47AM
Updated: April 10, 2013 11:10PM
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Peg McEntee

When Lane Beattie called out Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee for trying to stall — again — congressional action on immigration reform, he spoke as the businessman the two Utah senators are not.

Lee, a self-described expert on the U.S. Constitution, apparently has never worked in anything but law firms and government. Hatch has been a senator since 1977, and he has been a good friend to, among others, the pharmaceutical and supplement industries.

Now both are balking at immigration reform, and Beattie rightly went ballistic on them. He even went so far as to say it could be time to fire both of them and “get some people who understand what we need in business.”

Better yet, Beattie has ample credentials to speak out. He’s the CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and a member of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Board. He was a real estate professional for a quarter century. He was deeply involved in the 2002 Winter Olympics, which gave a huge boost to Utah’s economy.

And this week, he was justifiably angry.

What’s at stake is an immigration-reform package that could affect thousands of businesses and millions of immigrant families.

A lot of those immigrants have been working here for years, even decades. Critics will, of course, say any illegal immigrant ought to be deported, but tell that to the employers who quietly rely on their skills.

And, yes, unemployed citizens should get first shotat jobs that open up. But there are a great many jobs that Americans can’t or won’t take — think field work and meatpacking plants, to name just a couple.

Agriculture, admittedly a small business sector in Utah, needs experienced seasonal workers. So do food processors and ski resorts. The same applies to countless business in every state.

Congress seems to be working toward legislation that would put 11 million immigrants on a path to citizenship, increase the number of visas for high- and low-skilled workers and secure the border.

But if Hatch and Lee have their way, the reform effort would sink once again into interminable hearings and debates, all in the service ofducking the difficult choices this country needs to make right now.

Beattie spoke the truth when he said he didn’t know an issue “that has had more time, more discussion, more promises, more disappointment than immigration reform.”

It’s a shame that Hatch, once a leader on immigration reform (remember, he backed the Dream Act before he spurned it), is dragging his heels. Lee is just sticking to his constitutional theories, such as they are, and refusing to take reform seriously.

One thing we can do is bombard their offices, and those of the Utah congressmen who might agree with Hatch and Lee, with demands that they put their minds to the issue and get something useful done.

If that fails, we should elect smart people who will. The 2014 elections are coming up fast.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.