The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce sent open letters and is taking out a full-page ad in the local newspapers Thursday urging the Utah congressional delegation to advance comprehensive immigration reform this year.
Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Chamber, said the piecemeal approach and the "disconnect" between what the Utah Legislature is doing and congressional inaction is a recipe for failure in dealing with the controversial issue.
"We understand the realities of the election year and problems that go with that, but they're our elected officials for the entire time that they serve," Carpenter said. "And for that time in a civil manner we expect them to advance the issue. The economic challenges we face don't pause for an election cycle."
The letter, dated Nov. 17 and signed by Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie, is addressed to each member of the Utah congressional delegation by name and it uses The Utah Compact's one-year anniversary marked with a ceremony last week as the foundation for the request.
The first principle of The Utah Compact says immigration reform is a federal issue and that addressing only border enforcement and changing ineffective visa regulations aren't enough.
"We ask you to advance comprehensive immigration reform this year that is consistent with the principles contained in the Compact," the letter reads.
Brian Phillips, spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he saw the letter and said his boss simply doesn't support a comprehensive approach.
Phillips said Lee also disagreed with the state taking on immigration reform, though he understood the Legislature's frustration.
"He certainly has an obligation to hear their concerns, and with our offices in Utah and Washington, D.C., we have an open-door policy to express those concerns," Phillips said.
Citing legislation that would extend visas for dairy workers and goatherds as an example of a Chamber-backed bill Lee is sponsoring, Phillips said, "To the extent we can find agreement â¦ the senator very much represents his constituents."
It's not the first shot taken at Utah's congressional delegation on the immigration issue.
This summer, Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart wrote a withering criticism of the federal lawmakers calling each of them out by name and noting her view of their shortcomings on the issue in an opinion piece in the Provo Daily Herald.
"Our federal delegation has watched the Legislature do the heavy lifting to get immigration reform off the ground, while their political will atrophies in the airless echo chamber of Washington, D.C." she wrote. "We bleed in the trenches while they wallow in the temporary glory of meaningless blood-boiling rhetoric."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, echoed Lee's belief that the issue will be tackled one piece at a time, and he pointed to his bill that passed out of committee that would adjust visa caps on certain countries to meet labor needs.
But Chaffetz said even if comprehensive reform was on his agenda, the Chamber's timeline in the letter was unlikely. He also said they missed sending it to a key figure.
"Perhaps they should've included President Barack Obama on that letter," Chaffetz said. "He is one of the biggest impediments."
Carpenter said the intent of the Chamber's letter was to spur comprehensive action even though he acknowledged there were piecemeal efforts. Carpenter stopped short of saying there would be consequences for not moving forward with such an over-arching approach.
"It shouldn't be read as a threat," Carpenter said. "This is our position, and our expectation is you'll represent us."
Heather Barney, spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin Hatch, said in a statement he's already working on the issue.
"Senator Hatch appreciates how strongly Utahns feel about this issue and the work of Utah legislators and policymakers," she said. "On the federal level, Senator Hatch is working to fix America's broken immigration system at the federal level and has introduced legislation based off of the recommendations of Utahns."
No members of Utah's congressional delegation are among the almost 4,700 that signed The Utah Compact, which has spurred interest from other states, which have copied it and are using it as a guide to draft immigration-reform legislation. All five also were absent from the Nov. 11 ceremony marking the Compact anniversary.
Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop. R-Utah, said illegal immigration is a shared concern "that more can and should be done at the federal level." But she said Bishop is stressing a "first-things-first approach" and that securing the border "needs to be the first step."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, said the issue has been "leveraged" by both political parties and has been a key factor in locking up comprehensive immigration reform.
"I appreciate Utahns' efforts to try to move the ball forward," he said, adding in a statement that he hopes Obama and congressional leaders will take up serious reform legislation.