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Stewart, Utah’s freshman GOP House member, has said he will vote against any plan that would eventually offer an undocumented immigrant a chance to be a citizen with full voting rights. He believes they instead should gain legal status as long as they can pass a background check and pay a fine.
Both Chaffetz and Stewart see an opportunity to pass a bipartisan bill if that citizenship issue is off the table.
"I’m optimistic," Stewart said. "There is enough bipartisan agreement here. I think we are going to move something."
He expects that to happen in January at the earliest and it will start with a border-security bill and then may move to issues such as visa tracking and streamlining the process to get guest workers into the country.
But for that to work, Democrats would have to relent on citizenship, an issue Lockart also believes is getting too much attention.
The first step » "I don’t think citizenship should be the defining part of this debate," he said. "Like a marathon, citizenship should be mile 26 and we are on mile one."
He believes the first step should be a simplified visa program, which removes the sometimes-decades-long wait people must endure when they legally apply to enter the country.
Lockhart is a lobbyist for Micron, a computer-chip manufacturer, and like most who work in the technology industry, he hopes Congress will also provide more visas for those who work in advanced math or engineering fields.
But he said he accepted the invitation to participate in Tuesday’s events to push the party’s interest, not his company’s.
Donna Milakovic, vice president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, will address the needs of the business community, which has largely stood behind the Senate plan.
She’s heard the skepticism about the chances for reform passing soon, and that concerns her because she believes immigration reform is needed to propel the slowing economy.
"We felt like unless we come out and talk about what is happening, the support just isn’t there. Nothing is going to happen and nothing is going to change," she said. "If we can help encourage our legislators to come up with those reasoned solutions, it will be well worth the trip."
To move on such a complicated issue, particularly right after the bruising partisan battle over the first government shutdown in 17 years, would take serious compromise from each party.
Democrats have shown a willingness to adopt GOP views on border security if it gets them a path to citizenship, but most of the Republicans don’t appear ready to take that deal.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., is the only House Republican to co-sponsor a Democratic plan that combines the GOP’s border-security ideas with the Senate’s citizenship language. That bill has the support of 185 of the 200 House Democrats. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is not one of them.
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