Brad Wilson calls 'open border' policies a 'political stunt' to impact census counts

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson and Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon talk during a press conference with local officials on immigration at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office in Ogden on Friday.

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson and Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon talk during a press conference with local officials on immigration at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office in Ogden on Friday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

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OGDEN — U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson on Friday called for a national law to require proof of identification to vote and said he believes undocumented immigrants are being let into the country for "political purposes" to impact future census counts.

Wilson, the former Republican speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, was joined by a pair of state lawmakers and several sheriffs at the Weber County Sheriff's Office in Ogden for a discussion about immigration and its impact on law enforcement in Utah.

Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon — who was one of three Utah sheriffs to visit the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month — said his office has seen an uptick in traffic stops of undocumented individuals recently and Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby said his county has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of fentanyl seized.

"The United States of America is being invaded right now because of poor leadership in Washington," Wilson said.

Pushing back on claims that Utah is a "sanctuary state" for undocumented immigrants, Wilson said, "it doesn't mean we don't have the illegals here, and they're coming more and more every day, which is a real problem."

"And here's the sad part," he continued. "And no one's saying this, but I will say it: I believe that this is being done for political purposes. These illegal immigrants are going to be counted in the next census that will determine congressional apportionment. And we have a lot of cities in this country ... and states where they want these illegal immigrants to be able to vote. These are not things that are acceptable."

A handful of municipalities and states have laws that allow noncitizens to vote in some local elections, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, but noncitizens are prohibited from voting in federal elections under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

Congressional apportionment counts are based on the resident population of states, which includes "all people (citizens and noncitizens) who are living in the United States at the time of the census," according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"They should not be allowed to vote and they should not be counted in the next census," Wilson said of undocumented immigrants. "If we took away the incentive for that to happen, you would see the incentive for this open border policy go away. But this is, in my opinion, a political stunt that's having an immeasurably negative impact on this country."

A national voter ID law is "one exception" to Wilson's belief that states, not the federal government, should oversee election law.

Wilson blamed President Joe Biden for the current "emergency" at the U.S.-Mexico border, and said the president could close the border himself without congressional action. While he acknowledged that Congress should enact "wholesale immigration reform" to speed up the asylum process and implement a "remain in Mexico" policy for those seeking asylum, he said: "Until the border is closed, that second conversation both practically isn't going to happen and probably shouldn't happen."

Sheriffs in the state have been speaking out against what they call a "misleading" memo from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was first picked up by Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, another candidate in the race for Senate. Staggs seized on the idea that Utah is a "sanctuary state" for undocumented migrants last fall, calling on elected officials to "put aside agendas and consider the consequence of continuing down this path."

Staggs' statement drew swift rebukes from sheriffs who called the original ICE memo — which has since been rescinded, officials told — "misinformation." Mike Smith, Utah County sheriff and president of the Utah Sheriffs' Association, issued a statement in response, expressing "disappointment in Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs for his naive and uninformed press release in support of ICE's liberal agenda that blames state leaders for ICE's failures. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Other candidates in Utah, such as gubernatorial hopeful Phil Lyman, a state representative from Blanding, have echoed claims that Utah is a sanctuary state for undocumented migrants, prompting further pushback from elected officials.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox — who is seeking reelection and has expressed support for Wilson's Senate campaign — has repeatedly sought to clarify the issue.

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

Arbon and other sheriffs in attendance again denounced claims that Utah is a sanctuary state, instead blaming ICE officials for a lack of communication and federal policies for imposing onerous regulations about holding undocumented immigrants in county jails.

"Their own standards have made it virtually impossible to want to hold ICE detainees," Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen. As for being a sanctuary state, he added: "That is absolutely, 100% not the case."

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


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