Cox fields questions on immigration, public transparency during virtual town hall

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference on the last day of the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 1. Cox answered questions from resident during a virtual town hall Tuesday night.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference on the last day of the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 1. Cox answered questions from resident during a virtual town hall Tuesday night. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox assuaged concerns about Utah being a "sanctuary state" for illegal immigration and addressed government transparency concerns during a virtual town hall Tuesday night.

The governor began the broadcast with an update on the nearly 600 bills passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, saying his team is still reviewing them ahead of the March 21 deadline to veto or sign any bills.

"We have a lot of work to do over the next week and a half but I'm grateful again to my legislators, to cabinet and staff members, members of the public who were part of the process," he said. "It really is sausage-making in the best possible way. It can be a little bumpy and ugly at times, but it's still better, I think — better than any other system on Earth."

Calendar access for elected officials

Cox was asked early on about a high-profile bill passed late in the session that clarifies that public officials' calendars are not subjected to record requests under the state's Government Records Access and Management Act, also known as GRAMA.

"Why do you support keeping elected officials' calendars private when they're being paid with taxpayer dollars?" the governor was asked.

He responded by reiterating that the bill codifies what has been the long-standing intent of earlier laws related to public records, but promised to continue to release his calendar to the public each week.

"As a statewide elected official, this is my full-time job, and that's why I think it's so important," he said. "With our legislators, they are part-time officials, they have real jobs and this is not what they do every day. And their daily calendar is filled with lots of other things that are not public duties, so that's why I felt it was important to sign that record."

"But my promise to you is, I will continue to share my calendar with you, and I hope that other public officials will do the same," he added.

Immigration concerns

Immigration has been a growing bipartisan concern thanks to the increase in border crossing late last year, and Cox said he was "very concerned about the influx of migrants from the border," after he was asked about the impact of illegal immigration on the state.

He referenced a meeting with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week, during which Mayorkas promised to improve communication with governors about the number of border crossings and asylum seekers.

"We need the president to do more to secure the border — I made that very clear," Cox said Tuesday.

The governor was also asked about Utah's supposed status as a "sanctuary state" for undocumented immigrants. Questions about Utah's status have continued to plague the Republican governor after a memo issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year appeared to designate Utah as a sanctuary state "due to terminations of intergovernmental service agreements" by several county sheriffs.

The agency later told KSL.com it had rescinded the memo, and the Utah Sheriffs' Association accused Senate candidate Trent Staggs of releasing a "naive and uninformed" statement in response to the memo — which it called "misleading."

"Let me say this as clearly as possible: Utah is not a sanctuary state. It has never been a sanctuary state. It will never be a sanctuary state. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying," Cox said. "They're lying to you because they want to use fear and divisiveness to try to gain power."

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

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