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SALT LAKE CITY -- President Barack Obama's Thursday speech on immigration reform sparked a strong reaction in Utah, but it didn't change the minds of those who want the state to further crack down on illegal immigrants.

Obama said he's serious about comprehensive immigration reform and laws that require accountability from government, business and illegal immigrants themselves. But he knows he can't pass it alone.

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"Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes," Obama said.

Republicans, however, were instantly critical of the president's call for reform.

Herbert calls for state immigration summit

Utah's Gov. Gary Herbert says his problem with immigration reform is that Washington isn't moving quickly enough. Now he's calling for an immigration summit at the state capitol to formulate a state immigration law.

"I like what I heard, but they've got to do something," Herbert said Thursday. "As we all have observed, doing something in Washington, D.C., is a challenging issue, so I don't think anyone is willing to sit back and wait for them to do something."

Herbert said he expects to be working on immigration issues more in the coming months.

"I don't think anybody's willing to wait for the federal government to do something," he said. "I think we'll move ahead in the state of Utah, hopefully in a reasonable and rational way."


I don't think anybody's willing to wait for the federal government to do something.

–Gov. Gary Herbert


"A lot of these issues are federal responsibilities, and we're going to have to react as a state as we see fit here in Utah," Herbert added. "Hopefully the federal government will fulfill their responsibility at the same time."

But others say Utah should hold off and let the federal government work on reform.

"There's no need for Utah to do anything," Said Tony Yapias, with Proyecto Latino de Utah. "What Utah and the rest of the country needs is comprehensive immigration reform that works for all of us." [CLICK HERE to read Proyecto Latino's statement on the president's speech]

Republicans respond to Obama's speech

A host of Utah Republican leaders, meanwhile, are rebuffing the president's claim that they're the ones holding up the immigration reform process.

Heated debate over Arizona's new law is pushing the immigration issue forward, but the issue of securing the border is one of the main differences over what to include in a reform package.


It's like the Gulf out there. You can't clean up the oil until you stop the flow of the oil first, and that's what we're seeing across the border. You have a tremendous flow of illegals across the border. [Obama's] not addressing that.

–Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield


"We can't solve the immigration issue without first securing the border; and more money and more boots on the ground won't be effective without greater access to the public lands on the border," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in a written statement.

The president says the borders are more secure than ever, but Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch wants more focus on border security.

"The fact is, though, that if we don't take care of the border first, I don't think there's a way you can put a bipartisan bill together," Hatch said.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, agreed. "It's like the Gulf out there. You can't clean up the oil until you stop the flow of the oil first, and that's what we're seeing across the border," he said. "You have a tremendous flow of illegals across the border. He's not addressing that."

Ray said during his recent trip to the Mexican border he never saw any of the federal troops the president spoke of in his speech; in fact, he saw only two border patrol agents while he was in the border town of Douglas, Ariz.

"I crossed the border three times," Ray said.

Once the flow is stopped, Ray said he is open to efforts to deal with illegal immigrants already in the United States.

But Obama said simply securing the border is not the comprehensive approach that is needed. He also wants to give the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States a chance to come forward, pay fines and back taxes, learn English, then "get in the back of the line" in the immigration process.

That's an idea Yapias favors. He said they've never asked for amnesty, just a chance for people to work.

But Hatch says the plan does amount to what he calls "backdoor amnesty."

"The president's call for immigration reform is little more than cynical political pandering to his left-wing political base," Hatch said in a statement sent to KSL.

Utah, like Arizona, is looking to take immigration on again. Several lawmakers say they're not backing down on proposals to crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Rep. Steven Sandstrom, R-Orem, says he's "tweaking" his proposal patterned after Arizona's new law.

Meanwhile, Gov. Herbert said he wants to hold his immigration summit before the end of July.

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Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg, Marc Giauque and Richard Piatt.

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