Utah business and community leaders praised U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s new immigration proposals Monday, calling them a refreshing step toward immigration reform that is vital to Utah’s families and industries.
"It is so hard to hire the best and the brightest who are coming out of our great American universities under the current immigration system" because current quotas allow only a few foreigners to remain, said Jonathan Johnson, executive vice chairman of Utah-based Overstock.com, one of the leaders on a conference call to the news media.
"Other countries realize this and are working to recruit those American-trained Ph.D.s to come to their country and create competition for U.S.-based businesses," he said, noting his company struggles to hire the mathematicians and statisticians it needs. "Fixing this so that skilled workers can stay here and help American businesses grow will create jobs for Americans."
Boehner, R-Ohio, continues to stress the longtime GOP focus of improving immigration enforcement first. But he backed allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain permanent legal residency, just not citizenship — a move beyond the "no amnesty" stand of many conservatives. He also called for creating a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the country illegally by their parents.
"Today, we have a broken system. It is de facto amnesty," said Stan Lockhart, a former state Republican Party chairman who is government affairs manager for Micron. "People live in the shadows. And we say, it’s just fine as long as you don’t make waves. That’s amnesty."
He not only praised Boehner, but — in what he noted is unusual for a Republican leader — also lauded Senate Democrats for having already passed their version of an immigration bill.
"I applaud what the Senate did. I applaud what the House did," said Lockhart, husband of Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. One of the greatest challenges, he added, "is to keep the politics out of it and do what is right for the nation.
That means sensible immigration reform so people can enjoy their God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams also joined the bipartisan tone.
He applauded Republican Boehner’s steps, even though McAdams strongly supports the Democratic Senate bill. "I’m encouraged that starting principles in the House discussion are somewhat similar [to the Senate], especially with respect to the so-called ‘Dreamers,’" or children brought into the country illegally by their parents.
He called on Republican and Democratic leaders to "come together, to look for solutions and find consensus to this important challenge."
Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie said, "Utah has helped lead this discussion because we know immigration reform will grow our economy and provide predictability that businesses need."
He said Boehner’s principles dovetail well with the Utah Compact, a set of guiding principles signed by Utah leaders to guide the tone of immigration debate — and helping pave the way for some state-level reforms.
"What the compact did is encourage calmness and [development of] a federal policy so we can actually make the decisions to move us forward," Beattie said, adding Boehner’s standards do, too.
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church Pastor Steve Klemz said he is concerned Boehner stops short of supporting a pathway for full citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
But he is pleased by a phrase in the GOP principles that "I think is a vision for us all — that people can live here legally and without fear."
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