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PROVO — A proposed change in the Utah County Republican platform on immigration pitched as a compromise between the current stand and the Utah Compact was rejected by delegates Saturday in a close vote.
Much of the concern raised about the new language before it was rejected 166-179 dealt with a reference to parents having "a responsibility to act lawfully so their children are not negatively impacted."
To Tyffanie Perez, vice-chairwoman of a precinct in Springville, that "implied parents who for whatever reason have broken the law and come here illegally are irresponsible parents and I just don't think that's the case. I think that it's not just black and white."
Perez, who told delegates about an incident where she was stopped for speeding while rushing her daughter to the hospital, said that was an example of how laws can be broken by parents trying to do what's best for their children.
"I think that some people who have come to this country illegally, that's probably the reason they came, because they were thinking of their children," she said. Other delegates raised the same issue before the vote.
Perez said that while there are parts of the new platform change she liked, she was concerned that the reference to parents "could be viewed negatively. As a Republican, I don't want our party to be viewed negatively."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, who supported an unsuccessful attempt to replace the platform with the Utah Compact at a central committee meeting last March, said she was surprised the compromise was rejected by delegates.
"I don't think you can say by any means the people who voted against it or for it were on certain sides," Lockhart said, noting she voted against the compromise. "Even those who are in favor of the compact language had issue with a sentence or two."
The 2010 compact, embraced by business, community and faith leaders throughout the state, is a set a principles intended to guide the immigration debate that urges federal solutions that do not separate families.
The current Utah County GOP platform, which will remain in place, supports efforts to enforce the law while welcoming legal immigrants and calls for the federal government "to protect and secure our national borders."
The single line from the platform appearing in the compromise proposal adopted by the central committee states that "taxpayers should not be covering state benefits for illegal aliens."
Lockhart said that while immigration remains controversial, the tone of the debate has changed.
"People feel very strongly about this issue. But you didn't see the same kinds of emotion, the same kinds of strident activity that you've seen in the past," she said. "I think people are thinking very seriously about this issue."
There will likely be another attempt to change the platform language, Lockhart said. "I think what they're really saying is we want to take this slowly," she said. "We don't want to say something we don't mean."
The support for the compromise language included a call to fix a reference to the national GOP's 2008 platform as well as the suggestion that the language was at least better if not ideal.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who attended a portion of the convention held at Timpview High School, said he was undecided on the platform change.
"Certainly, everyone knows we need to have immigration reform. The question is, what does reform mean," the governor said. "This is not just a Utah issue. It's a national issue."
Two years ago, the Utah Legislature passed both a tough enforcement measure and a controversial guest-worker program that sparked a revolt by some Republicans, particularly in Utah County who called for the measure's repeal.
Herbert said the strong feelings were fueled by frustration that the federal government had not addressed the issue. A bipartisan immigration reform proposal is now pending in the Senate.
The governor called the state's efforts at immigration reform an "attempt by Utah to force the federal government off the sidelines and to get into the game. Frankly, it's worked."