Utah politicians explore federal immigration action

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Immigration is a federal issue, but caught up in gridlock. So the question is: What are Utah's lawmakers doing about it?

States like Utah and Arizona have been talking about crackdowns on illegal immigrants. Tuesday, Colorado lawmakers indicated they would follow suit for their state. Everyone agrees that Congress needs to act. But is that likely?

In this case, it is the crying need for immigration reform running smack-dab into political reality. Most political observers doubt that federal immigration reform will happen any time soon.

One exception to that is Utah Congressman Rob Bishop.

The incentives for candidates right now are to find elements of an issue and say 'no' or attack it. The incentives are not there typically to come out and say, ‘Here is my solution.'

–Kirk Jowers

He told KSL over the phone Tuesday he feels reforming immigration starts by securing the border first, and he feels Congress can do it.

"If we don't do that, there will never be an atmosphere that will be created to allow overall immigration reform," Bishop said.

There is already a House-passed bill that would expand the authority of the border patrol.

"Once people look at the language and they look at how painfully obvious this is, once it's out in the public, once it's out in the open, there's nobody that can deny that this is what we ought to be doing," Bishop said.

That legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, might be possible. In the past, Chaffetz has taken a hard line, saying "We should enforce the law. We should not reward illegal behavior."

But going farther than that -- working out things like local immigration enforcement and guest-worker issues -- is unlikely, according to the Hinckley Institute's Kirk Jowers.

"Over the last decade or so, Congress has become completely dysfunctional and unable to deal with any major issue," he says. "If it's complicated, if it takes compromise, it completely breaks down."

Politically, Jowers says, immigration is a hot potato that, in this election year, few elected officials want to touch.

"The incentives for candidates right now are to find elements of an issue and say 'no' or attack it," Jowers said. "The incentives are not there typically to come out and say, ‘Here is my solution.'"

That is why Arizona, and now Utah, are taking the tough issue on for themselves. Most of Utah's federal delegation applauds these efforts.

Sen. Orrin Hatch told ABC News in July he doesn't blame states for taking it on. He too blames today's cynical political climate.

Hatch has said, "It's gonna take both parties. It's gonna have to get out of the realm of politics."

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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