Utah leaders urge immigration reform through citizenship path
Prominent politicians, businessmen, clergy, law enforcement officers urge fast action.
Published: May 14, 2014 10:51AM
Updated: May 14, 2014 08:53AM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Jean Hill, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, is joined by other area business leaders as she talks during a rally calling for Congress to enact immigration reform. The group of leaders held a press conference at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, one of six press conferences happening at the same time in six Western states Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

Many immigration-reform rallies have crowds of immigrants pleading for a path to citizenship. A rally Tuesday at the state Capitol presented a different view, featuring business executives, big-name politicians, top clergy and law-enforcement officers.

But their message was the same: Congress should pass reform this summer, and it should include “creating a road to lawful status and citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.

“For too long, Congress has kicked the immigration can down the road,” said Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. “This is the time to act on immigration reform, not next year or after the next election.”

Similar rallies Tuesday in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico urged House members from Rocky Mountain states to act on Senate-passed reform, and use solutions from the region to guide debate — including the Utah Compact for civil dialogue, keeping families together and recognizing immigrants’ economic role.

“If conservatives would just reflect on those principles within the Utah Compact, they would be much more comfortable at handling comprehensive immigration reform,” said Paul Mero, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute.

In Washington, President Barack Obama met with law-enforcement officials — including former Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard, now executive director of the National Sheriffs Association, and Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires — to press for congressional action on immigration reform.

Speakers at the Utah rally spoke about how reform is needed to increase legal immigration quotas that local high-tech companies need to bring in talent; calm tension that worries police; and fulfill a moral obligation to help families.

“We have a serious talent shortage here in the state” among high-tech companies, said Richard Nelson, president & CEO of the Utah Technology Council. “Literally thousands of open positions are going unfilled in the range of $40,000 to $140,000 per job.”

He said that makes it difficult for local companies to expand and create more jobs.

Todd Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, made a similar argument.

“When immigrant workers fill gaps left by Americans, we’re able to keep businesses here in the United States rather than shipping those jobs overseas,” he said.

Former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn added his voice to the choir.

“We have so many people coming here and getting their educations in the United States, and they would be valuable if we could keep them but they return to their own home countries” because of immigration quotas and problems, Garn said.

He expressed disappointment that Congress is still working on reform, which was debated when he was a senator — “and I left more than 20 years ago.”

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said, “We must come to some kind of clarity” on immigration. “Otherwise, tensions will continue to mount and problems will occur.”

Jean Hill, speaking on behalf of Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said immigration reform “is a moral obligation of this nation.”

The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, said compassionate reform would include “an earned pathway to citizenship,” and “protects families against separation.”

The group — and their counterparts in other Rocky Mountain states — signed a letter to the area’s U.S. House members calling for reform that respects the dignity of all despite their immigration status, and for creating a path “to lawful status and citizenship, while respecting those who have been awaiting naturalization.”

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said Western states including Utah “have tried to take on immigration, but have been preempted by the federal government. If you don’t want us to do it, we call on you to” handle it now.

ldavidson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @LeeHDavidson