Activists in GOP work for repeal of guest-worker law
Still smoldering after Gov. Gary Herbert signed a guest-worker immigration bill into law, Keri Witte decided to take matters into her own hands.
So the Provo mother of two pulled out her copy of Robert's Rules of Order, a few old resolutions she had seen drafted in the past and began drafting a document she intended to have sent to every Republican county party for passage as a resolution.
"No, I'd never written one before," she said. "But I had several friends look it over first to make sure it was OK."
It wasn't quite OK at first.
She brought it to Utah County Republican Party's Executive Committee, where it was critiqued for being "overly harsh and personal" in its criticisms against lawmakers. So Witte tried a new version and delivered it to the Salt Lake County Republicans on March 17.
It passed a vote of the party's Central Committee.
"I'm just surprised and disappointed with our elected officials that supported this," Witte said. "There are many facets of HB116 that come straight out of the Democrats' platform. I'm surprised they supported something that goes against Republican ideals."
Witte also has drafts prepared for the Republican parties of Piute, Iron and Beaver counties all of which have annual organizing conventions this weekend, and which begin a series of more than two dozen such gatherings over coming weeks leading up to the June 18 state Republican convention.
Her approach is one of a series of tactics being used by those angered by the passage of the guest-worker bill, which has also garnered national attention as a possible model of immigration reform.
The bill doesn't take effect for two years and relies on getting federal waivers to function. Among its provisions, HB116 allows for workers and families to get permits to work and reside in Utah and register through the Department of Public Safety. It would cost $2,500 for an undocumented immigrant to obtain a permit $1,000 if the person overstayed a visa.
Brandon Beckham, a state party delegate, said Witte is operating independently of any organized movement though he said she first approached him at the Capitol the week before Herbert signed the bill to ask if he would be interested in getting resolutions passed.
"I told her I'd support her doing it, but I told her she should take the ball and run with it since she was so passionate about it and because it was her idea," Beckham said. "The thing is, there are multiple strategies at work to get the bill repealed."
Already there is a Facebook page set up seeking support to repeal HB116 and it includes Sen. Orrin Hatch, Eagle Forum founder and President Phyllis Schlafly, former NBA player Shawn Bradley and close to 300 other supporters.
And Cherilyn Eagar, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, has also drafted a resolution opposing HB116.
Beckham said lawmakers who voted for HB116 are also being targeted by tea party delegates namely Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Rep. Holly Richardson, R-Cedar Hills and they are actively searching for a Republican to run against Herbert in 2012. Beckham said he believes there are a few good candidates, but Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, is likely the favorite among those who want to repeal HB116.
"I am not running for governor," Sandstrom said. "I want to be very, very clear."
However, he also said, "I always tell people never say never" on seeking the governor's seat and acknowledged he's been asked by people to take a shot at it.
Richardson, who was once in the tea party movement and was picked to take over the seat vacated by Rep. Craig Frank before the recent legislative session started, said she is no longer associated with the groups.
Her selection to fill the seat was praised by tea party members, but the vote for the guest-worker bill turned them against her. She said comments on her Facebook page have been harshly critical of the vote, labeling her as a betrayer of tea party values.
"Whatever gains they had made are now being destroyed by their behavior," she said. "I think what is happening with HB116 is having more people disassociate from it."
But Witte said lawmakers like Richardson are going against the party platform at county, state and national levels by supporting the guest-worker bill.
In her resolution, she wrote the law violates the U.S. Constitution, will serve as an invitation for more undocumented immigrants to come to Utah and creates a threat to national security.
The resolutions, however, are nonbinding, according to Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairwoman Julie Dole.
She also said when it passed the Salt Lake County Republican Central Committee on March 17, "it wasn't unanimous" among the more than 400 people in attendance and that debate on the measure was cut off prematurely though not intentionally.
Instead, she said, before it could be fully debated, a person she wouldn't identify tried to speak to the resolution but instead called for the question forcing a vote. That decision wasn't reversed.
"A majority of people wanted to move on," Dole said.
From S.L. County GOP's resolution on HB116
The statement asserts that the guest-worker law:
• "Encourages immigrants to illegally enter the United States and settle in Utah prior to the May 10, 2011, cutoff date, at risk to our national security."
And it affirms the following beliefs:
• "The rule of law means enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas, rather than letting millions flout the generosity that gave them temporary entry."
• "We oppose illegal immigration and all forms of amnesty, or legal status, for illegal immigrants."
• "We believe that no individual is entitled to rights that exceed or supersede the God-given individual rights guaranteed in our Constitution."