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SALT LAKE CITY -- Dozens of community leaders met on Utah's Capitol Hill with Gov. Gary Herbert Tuesday for a roundtable discussion on immigration reform in Utah.
Governor calls for cooperation
The meeting is being described as a start, when it comes to addressing the issue in Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert said he wanted the attendees to start finding common ground on the immigration question.
The goal for today's meeting is to encourage you, as some of the state's key stakeholders, to really listen to each other. Listening is the first step to understanding, and it will lead to solutions.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
"The goal for today's meeting is to encourage you, as some of the state's key stakeholders, to really listen to each other. Listening is the first step to understanding, and it will lead to solutions," Herbert said. "It is up to us to find innovative solutions for our unique illegal immigration problems."
Herbert and other attendees spent the first hour of the discussion giving brief statements about their concerns when it comes illegal immigration in Utah.
"As governor, I want to see our state take a thoughtful and rational approach to immigration reform," Herbert said in his opening remarks. "Unfortunately, this is an emotional issue that some will try to politicize to our collective detriment. This is not a time for clever sound bites or political posturing. Instead, we must search for common ground."
The federal government's role in immigration reform
If there is one thing they all agreed on, it was that the federal government has left individual states hanging.
"Our federal government needs to come up with something," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said.
Senate President Michael Waddoups said, "Our federal government has let us down."
"I think as states we need to push back against the federal government and give them the framework, what should be appropriate legal immigration," said Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork.
Utah's immigration concerns
Despite the points of agreement among the diverse group in attendance, differences emerged quickly -- like defining the role of local law enforcement in handling illegal immigration and the question of what to do about guest workers. At the same time immigrants are important to the economy, some are concerned about granting amnesty.
"We cannot accomplish what we are asked to do without an immigrant workforce," said David Layton, president of Layton Construction.
We're better than the them-vs.-us analysis that has been going on recently, and I think we need to be better at finding solutions.
–Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City
"Government bureaucracy and a broken immigration system is causing stress and economic losses to our farmers and ranchers in the state of Utah," said Randy Parker, with the Utah Farm Bureau.
Dougall said, "I think any guest-worker program we have is going to have to address how do we open the door to legal immigration."
"Even if we have a legal mechanism for people to come here legally, There are going to be many upon many who will come illegally to game the system," said Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem.
Community advocate Pamela Atkinson simply asked for the community itself to have more compassion when addressing the topic.
"I've had many dialogues over the last few months, particularly in the community, and I'm tired of the lack of civility," she said. "I'm tired of the hatred, and I'm tired of the hostility."
Meeting provides 'glimmer of hope'
Aside from Sandstrom's proposed bill -- which is inspired by Arizona's immigration law, but tailored to Utah -- there were no firm proposals at Tuesday's meeting. Still, the gathering did offer a glimmer of hope of progress.
"I think it gave us an idea of where everybody's at and the direction we should be going," said J. Michael Clara, with the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly.
"I think it's extremely important that all of the parties are together in the same room," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "But I think we need to focus on solutions, not just concerns."
"We're better than the them-versus-us analysis that has been going on recently, and I think we need to be better at finding solutions," said Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City.
The governor is calling the meeting a success. He said there will probably be more in the future, as the state moves to tackle one of its most pressing problems.