During a radio debate Monday on public radio station KCPW, tempers flared as Utah County businessman John Jacob and incumbent Chris Cannon tried to pin each other down on the subject.
"This [primary election] is a referendum on immigration," Jacob said.
On that, at least, the candidates agreed. Beyond that it was unclear exactly where the two men stand on the issue, especially following stories last week that Jacob had given money to an immigrant family.
The family was legally in the country, but Jacob acknowledges he helped the wife set up a company so he could funnel money to her though her visa prohibited her from working.
In his campaign, Jacob says the solution to illegal immigration is to deport undocumented immigrants and heavily fine and prosecute businesses that hire them. He would have undocumented workers leave the country and apply for re-entry behind those who have been waiting to legally immigrate.
Cannon argues Jacob is offering simplistic solutions to a problem that is complicated and nuanced. In general, Cannon said he would support fining undocumented workers and forcing them to leave the country briefly before they can apply for re-entrance.
Jacob said that up until recently, Cannon has consistently supported President Bush's pro-business approach to immigration that would include some kind of guest worker program and a "path to citizenship."
"You have been on the side with the president and you've rubber stamped what he has proposed," Jacob said. "Will the real Chris Cannon please stand up?"
Cannon, a five-term congressman, reminded voters of his government experience and, more pointedly, his seniority in the House. All that influence will be lost to Utah, he said, if voters elect Jacob.
"If I don't get reelected, immigration reform dies," Cannon warned.
Jacob said immigration reform requires new ideas in Washington. "If you want change and to solve the issue, elect me."
But Cannon said: "Electing him will create change. Things will change in a very bad way."
Jacob responded, "Everyone has to be a freshman at some point. You were a freshman, Chris. We need fresh ideas there. The country has lost trust in Congress."