Utah leaders, residents have conflicting views on immigration debate

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's congressional leaders are working on immigration reform plans of their own to add to the national conversation.

Immigration reform is complex enough, but add several plans and things begin to get muddled. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pulled out of the bi-partisan group of eight senators working to craft an immigration reform bill on Capitol Hill. Lee says he can't support a plan that rewards illegal activity.

In a statement he writes: "These guidelines contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country."

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is working with a bi-partisan group of his own, offered up an immigration reform plan based on employment in the high-tech industry.

"It's a market-driven path forward to fulfilling a need in our immigration system and growing the economy. It's good for workers, good for businesses trying to grow, and good for our economy," said Hatch in a statement.

Back at home in Utah, those who have been working for immigration reform say these plans are only a temporary solution.

"His first point was on enforcement, which is actually very sad," said Theresa Martinez, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah. "I thought that he was going to start right away with the needs of families, the needs of students."

These guidelines contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country.

–Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah

Dr. Martinez is a Mexican-American and has been teaching and watching immigration reform talks in the community for over 25 years. She feels the proposed plans only address the current climate and are not long-term solutions for the broken immigration system.

"How can people feed their families and wait in line?" she said. "It just doesn't make any sense. I want to know how that's going to take place. I believe they're going to have to flesh it out. I believe they want to flesh it out."

President Obama and a bi-partisan group of senators have proposed similar plans. Both want to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, but they differ on border security measures.

The president does not want border security tied to legalizing undocumented immigrants, but the bi-partisan senators want security measures in place before any legal status is granted.

Another difference involves children brought into the United States illegally. Obama's plan would expedite the path to citizenship only when students attend college or serve in the military.

The Senate's plan would expedite citizenship regardless of pursuing higher education. That would directly impact Sol Jimenez, a University of Utah student who plans to be a lawyer someday.


"I've been in this country 16 years with undocumented status," he said. "My parents as well. There's a time when you say, 'when is this finally going to happen?'"

Another crucial difference in the plans cover employees and their employers. Obama's plan would impose stiffer penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, but small businesses would be exempt from mandatory electronic verification.

The Senate plan would require all employers to e-verify.

Utah's proposed immigration reform comes in the form of the Utah Compact — a statement of principles, not law, championed by former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and local business, community and religious leaders. Some legislators support it, others oppose it.

Shurtleff was in Las Vegas Tuesday trying to garner support for the Utah Compact.


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