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Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
Rep. Chris Herrod and Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino de Utah participate in a debate on immigration reform during a Rotary Club meeting at the Marriott in Salt Lake City Tuesday, September 7, 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY — It was supposed to be a one-on-one battle between the author of the year's most controversial bill and its most prominent opponent.

But Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, was a no-show at the Rotary Club debate Tuesday over his tough new illegal immigration bill. Instead, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, discussed the issue with Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah.

Herrod said Sandstrom had a work conflict that prevented him from attending the debate.

Rotary Club of Salt Lake City president Jay Jacobson said he was disappointed that Sandstrom pulled out at the last minute. Typically, the club does not allow replacements.

Bob Springmeyer, the local club's past president and the debate's moderator, also voiced his opinion.

"We're clearly disappointed," he said.

Herrod will be one of many co-sponsors for Sandstrom's bill, which would require law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of anyone arrested if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is here illegally.

Herrod, whose Ukraine-born wife and Ethiopian business partner are both legal immigrants, recently wrote a book called "The Forgotten Immigrant." He believes compassion is lacking for those suffering in other countries who want to come here legally but have to wait in line.

"We're discriminating against the African, the Asian, the European," Herrod said.

Asked about the LDS Church's call for compassion for all, Herrod, who is a church member, said his understanding is that the church has long asked members to stay in their own countries.

He cited statistics showing that 16 percent of the state's murderers and 22 percent of those convicted of raping a child are illegal immigrants.

Yapias said Herrod and others are trying to inject fear into the debate. He said undocumented workers don't want citizenship, just the ability to work without fear of being deported.

"What he's trying to do is play with your emotions here," Yapias said. "He's not being compassionate about this whole issue."

Also an LDS Church member, Yapias said he has friends in "Anglo" wards who see people in church on Sunday who are trying to get them deported the rest of the week.

Yapias also said that immigration is strictly a federal issue that cannot be solved at the state level, and that state legislators are using it as a "political football."

Sandstrom and Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, have discussed a "carrot-and-stick" approach involving companion bills that could set up a guest worker program. But Herrod told the Deseret News those discussions will go nowhere as long as Robles' bill gives illegal immigrants amnesty.

A Deseret News poll done in April found that 65 percent of Utahns support an "Arizona-style" immigration bill.

Herrod said his support for the bill is centered on respect for the rule of law.

"We forget how difficult it is to maintain that social contract. I follow laws I don't like because I know you follow laws you don't like," he said. "Once we start to pick and choose, it doesn't take very long for society to break down."

He estimated it costs the state more than $100 million to educate the children of illegal immigrants and $500 million to provide health care for those here illegally. Yapias countered that Utah's 300,000 Latinos bring in $5.5 billion to the state economy, roughly the same as Hill Air Force Base.

Herrod said he has not seen an analysis of how much it would cost to enforce the provisions of Sandstrom's bill. Critics, including Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, have said it will be too expensive and that federal authorities would not have the resources to deport everyone who would be detained.

Herrod told the Deseret News that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say different things in private and in public about what the impact of the bill would be.

He said he will meet with U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch in the coming weeks to discuss how to set up a guest worker program.

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com