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Chris Cannon

Utahns will apparently have to wait for Congress to convene next month to hear a spirited debate on the volatile issue of immigration after U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, turned down an offer to debate a fellow Republican on the matter later this month.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., is scheduled to visit Utah Aug. 24 and 25 to discuss immigration and border security at three public forums.

The local anti-illegal immigration group, Utahns For Immigration Reform and Enforcement, invited the Colorado congressman and had hoped one of his appearances would include a debate with Cannon.

The two congressmen are on opposite ends of the immigration spectrum — Cannon supports giving undocumented workers a way to earn legal status and is one of President Bush's point men on his comprehensive immigration proposal. Tancredo, on the other hand, is co-sponsoring legislation that would bolster border security, crack down on illegal immigrants and their employers as well as create a temporary guest worker plan without offering amnesty.

In response to the debate invitation, Cannon's chief of staff, Joe Hunter, said simply, "Congressman Cannon plans to spend the 24th at home working on his irrigation system. However, given Mr. Tancredo's recent interest in religious sites, we would suggest our visitor from Colorado might want to occupy his time touring Temple Square."

Hunter was referring to a remark Tancredo made last month that the United States could respond to a nuclear strike by Islamic terrorists by bombing Muslim holy sites.

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Tancredo was traveling and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He has since apologized for offending anyone with his remarks on Muslim holy sites.

UFIRE Chairman Mike Sizer said he believed that those attending the 3forum would probably like to hear from both sides.

"It just appears, apparently, that Congressman Cannon feels that our borders, immigration, national security, is just a joke," said UFIRE Chairman Mike Sizer. "I don't think the citizens of Utah consider this to be a joke."


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com