Two sides face off in illegal immigration debate

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Public faces on two sides of the Utah illegal immigration issue debated their perspectives Tuesday. Despite their sharp differences of opinion, a civil tone dominated the discussion before the Salt Lake Rotary Club.

Where is the compassion for those who are doing it right?

–Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo

In these discussions, the issue of compassion keeps coming up as Latinos try to humanize the immigration debate -- some asking whether it's compassionate at all to pass laws that crack down on illegal immigration.

The compassion issue was clearly in mind at the rotary club debate Tuesday.

"Where is the compassion for those who are doing it right?" asked Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who is focusing on reforming immigration laws.

Substituting for Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Clearfield, Herrod and Latino activist Tony Yapias sparred about the newly-proposed bill to crack down on illegal immigration.

Yapias called the proposal uncompassionate and again called on a higher power, citing LDS Church leaders' call for "careful reflection and civil discourse when addressing immigration issues."

"It's basically holding our legislators, our elected politicians, responsible for their actions, for the types of laws that they enact," Yapias said.

But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' public statement on illegal immigration also says, "Elected individuals have the primary responsibility to find solutions."

Reform supporters, like Herrod, say it's not appropriate to do nothing. Herrod says Utah can't afford to stand still while surrounding states take the issue on.

It's not going to get solved at the state legislature... It will get challenged, it will be in the courts.

–Latino activist Tony Yapias

"The fact is now that Utah has the fastest growing illegal alien population in the nation, because we have been very slow to do something. That's from the Pew Hispanic Center," he said.

Having gone through the legal immigration process with his Ukrainian wife, Herrod insists Utah not reward those immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.

The bottom line is whether Utah should be taking on the immigration issue at all. Herrod says absolutely, but Yapias suggests leaving it to Congress to handle.

"If you reward illegal behavior, you get more of it," Herrod said. "Until we get to the point where we say, ‘Unless you do it right you're not going to be given the opportunity to come,' we will continue to have the same type of problem."

"It's not going to get solved at the state Legislature, no matter what he thinks or how he believes," Yapias said. "It will get challenged, it will be in the courts."

Herrod doesn't buy the debate that children caught in the middle of their parents' choices facing deportation will suffer.

"They have been given a free education. They are much better off than those whose parents obeyed the law and stayed in their home country," he said.

But Yapias says it's a little more complicated than that.

"Our current laws do not meet the demands of today's needs in our country," he said.

Immigration remains a hot political topic. There are nearly as many debates on Sandstrom's bill as candidate debates, so far.


Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt and Nkoyo Iyamba.

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