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Utah leaders call for immigration reform, cite contributions of immigrants

Utah leaders call for immigration reform, cite contributions of immigrants

(Tom Smart, Deseret News, File)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — One Utah lawmaker borrowed part of a President Donald Trump campaign quote Tuesday as he advocated for immigration reform, saying Congress needs to build a door into its immigration policy.

Members of Utah's faith and business community joined with state lawmakers to call upon Congress to promote immigration reform. Over a dozen speakers from various backgrounds shared their experiences hiring and working with immigrants, and stressed the difficulties of doing business with a workforce that is growing concerned about its place in the country.

The speakers organized with New American Economy, an organization promoting the economic contributions of immigrants. They cited recent immigration and workforce figures to demonstrate immigrants' contributions to the nation's economy.

Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, advocated for entrepreneurial involvement by immigrants to the U.S. and said immigrants bring $4 billion in spending power to the state of Utah.

"President Donald Trump, in the recent campaign, talked about building a wall. You may have heard of it," Winder said. "But he also talked about a big beautiful door in that wall."

He made note of the broad involvement of immigrants in the country, from agricultural workers to Nobel Prize laureates.

Winder was joined by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, as they discussed Utah's involvement in immigration programs.

Stephenson cited Utah's early adoption of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented children to attend colleges with in-state tuition, as one example of Utah's efforts in assisting immigrant needs. He also cited Utah's dual-language immersion program as another method that has helped immigrant students and families adjust to life in the state.

Weiler made note of the nearly 70,000 immigrants in his congressional district who make up around 10 percent of the area's population and who contributed about $115 million in state and local taxes and $224 million in federal taxes in 2015.

"Immigrants are innovators who really help drive our economy forward," he said.

Steven Klemz, a pastor for the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, discussed his concerns over members of his congregation expressing fears about deportation.

"One proprietor, because of the fear in this country, is closing down his business. He has asked that if they get detained or deported, I take his two children to Mexico," the pastor said.

A number of speakers stressed support for reforming immigration policies, ahead of concerns about Trump's proposal to build a wall along the southern border of the country.

Jorge Dennis, the CEO of EnviroKleen and a member of Utah's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, supports what he says is a moderate and centered approach.

"The issue of immigration has been used by both parties as a partisan weapon to throw back and forth for reasons of their advantage," Dennis said, adding that the entry system for the country needs to be updated to allow people to more easily work within the country.

"We must come up with a system that will allow for these good people to come out of the shadows and continue to make positive impacts in our communities … but also to vet out those who would seek to do us harm," he said.

A number of business leaders shared their hopes for work visa reforms to better staff their businesses.

Melva Sine, CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, said many visa workers are able to contribute to the business industry but encounter problems when they have to renew visas, and face anxieties about fears of deportation.

"I’m hoping that this big beautiful door that we are referring to becomes a big beautiful revolving door," she said.

Jake Harward, owner of Harward Farms, said the H2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers is one program needing reform.

"The H2A program is very cumbersome, very expensive. It takes a long time to get my workers here by the month of May. I have to start my process in December," Harward said.

He said hiring his summertime workforce is a process that could be streamlined to the benefit of local farmers.

Ryan Morgan

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