SPANISH FORK — A movement seeking the repeal of House Bill 116 — the controversial guest worker legislation passed last month by the Utah Legislature — comes to a head Saturday in a Utah County Republican convention with strong leaders on different sides of the issue.
Utah County is in some ways the epicenter of the Beehive State's immigration debate, because the legislative delegation from the area includes state representatives like immigration hawks Steve Sandstrom and Chris Herrod as well as HB116 backers like state Sen. Curt Bramble and the former chairman of the state Republican Party, Stan Lockhart.
The passage of HB116, signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert but in need of a federal waiver and not scheduled to take effect for more than two years, initially elicited an uproar among conservative Republicans. That discontent appeared to be growing April 16 when the delegates at the Salt Lake County Republican convention approved a nonbinding resolution calling for repeal of HB116. For a moment it looked like every county in Utah might follow suit.
However, April 16 might have been the day the repeal movement reached its highest point.
Since then, momentum has swung in favor of 116. In the past two weeks, in short succession, the Republican conventions in Beaver, Box Elder, Davis and Iron counties all voted down resolutions to repeal HB 116. Others didn't consider the issue.
Now another nonbinding resolution calling for the repeal of HB116 will come up for a vote Saturday at the Utah County Republican Party's organizing convention at Maple Mountain High School.
"I believe we are at a crossroads in the Republican Party here in Utah … with the serious issue of immigration," Lockhart wrote in an email sent Thursday to fellow Utah County GOP delegates. "On Saturday, you will be asked to support a resolution to repeal HB116. If we choose to support the resolution, we will be out of step with Davis County, Box Elder County, Beaver County and Iron County Republicans who defeated this resolution. In other county conventions, the resolution didn't even make it onto the agenda. And there is a growing backlash in Salt Lake County where this resolution passed."
One of the major talking points espoused by proponents of an HB116 repeal is the observation that legislating illegal immigration is the federal government's responsibility and not within the scope of any state's jurisdiction. Sen. Stuart Reid (R-Ogden), HB116's sponsor in the state senate, finds a certain measure of hypocrisy in that argument because of where it's coming from.
"I think that observation is fallacious," Reid said. "The same people that are making that observation were pushing the state legislators to pass (harsher immigration) legislation. Now they're saying that the state does not have a role in passing legislation and yet they were up at the legislature pounding away trying to get legislation passed on immigration."
Three days after the Salt Lake County Republican convention called for repeal, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (newsroom.lds.org/article/immigration-response) reiterated its position on HB116: "The church appreciates the package of bills that the (Utah) Legislature had passed, including House Bill 116. … The position of the church regarding immigration reform (includes) measures that will allow those who are now here illegally to work legally."
"Is the Utah County Republican Party going down the wrong road on this resolution opposing HB116?" Lockhart said. "There has been a great deal of misunderstanding and frankly misinformation about the position of the LDS Church regarding HB116. From my perspective, it's clear."
Proponents of the repeal movement disagree.
Dave Duncan still unequivocally believes HB116 ought to be repealed even after reading the LDS Church's April 19 statement. A member of the Utah County Republican Party's executive committee, Duncan is also a candidate for the party's chairmanship.
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