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SALT LAKE CITY — The immigration reform debate may have cooled down, but a group of government, business and religious leaders — including several from Utah — are hoping to return the issue to the front burner in Washington in the coming year.
Tuesday marked the first day of a two-day "National Strategy Session" on immigration in the nation's capital, beginning with a news conference at the National Press Club. The group of leaders is urging Congress to enact several reforms, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.
It would be a powerful boost for our elected leaders to show they can get something done.
–Natalie Gochnour, Salt Lake Chamber
"We see 2013 as the year to get immigration reform done in this country," Salt Lake Chamber chief economist Natalie Gochnour said in a phone interview with KSL NewsRadio from Washington, D.C.
"We've waited too long. It would be a powerful boost for our elected leaders to show they can get something done," she said.
Joining Gochnour in being a voice of the Utah perspective on immigration is outgoing Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. His remarks Tuesday ruffled some feathers locally, and they're likely to ruffle some more within the national GOP.
"We have been talking to the wrong crowd. We've been worried about the wrong people. We've been pandering, in some cases, to a small minority of our party," Shurtleff said.
He talked up Utah's track record and the need for a pathway to citizenship for the nation's undocumented workers.
"Almost three years ago now in Utah, we decided, as a red state, we weren't going to follow the example of enforcement-only, punitive, drive 'em out at all costs kind of ... state legislation," Shurtleff said.
That message instantly rankled state Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo.
"Had Mark done something about illegal immigration 12 years ago, we wouldn't have the problem that we do today," Herrod said.
An outspoken backer of enforcement-only laws, he said a softer stance on immigration is hurting the GOP.
But Shurtleff isn't the only Republican calling for party reform. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has been "beating the drum" for months.
"I think the deliberation about the Republican Party that we're having is a very healthy thing," he said.
For now, though, the focus is pushing for reform.
"I'm optimistic," Gochnour said. "I hope 2013 is the year."
Others in attendance from Utah include Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute.