PARK CITY Utah lawmakers do not want to put the welcome mat out for illegal immigrants.
Members of the Legislature's Immigration Interim Committee beat up the conservative Sutherland Institute on Wednesday, after the group put out a policy statement saying, "We should welcome all people of good will to our state."
"If a person of good will comes to our state looking to make Utah a better place to live, work and raise a family, then we should welcome that person from wherever and however they come to us," the position statement reads.
That's not a message Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, wants to send.
"I just don't understand that," Hickman said. "I understand it, but I don't understand how you can suggest that this is not an attempt to welcome everybody to our state, regardless of the fact that they may have broken federal law to get here, that we should ignore that? I don't understand that."
Another statement in the Sutherland Institute's report, "Utah's Citizens and Illegal Immigrants: Side-by-Side," irritated Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden.
In the conclusion of the report, it says Utah should "continue to welcome and work with illegal immigrants living side-by-side with us neighbors who are already adding value to the state."
Dee said he wants to make sure Utah doesn't become a "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants, and that statement seems like a welcome mat for future illegal immigration.
Sutherland Institute officials said lawmakers were misreading the reports, and called it a "difference of opinion."
Stan Rasmussen, public affairs manager for the Sutherland Institute, said the group is focused more on dealing with the illegal immigrants already in the state.
"We're not looking for more," Rasmussen said. "When we say we welcome illegal immigrants, we're not talking about the ones who aren't here."
Rasmussen said the federal government should work to administer a "workable immigration program." But in the meantime, "we should provide them a means of which to assimilate and come out of the shadows."
Hickman didn't like that response.
"I'm just not going to accept that spin that the institute is putting on that statement, because that's just not what it said," Hickman said.
The spat came about in the middle of the Immigration Interim Committee's meeting in Park City on Wednesday night.
The four-hour plus meeting was heavy on anti-illegal immigration. But Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and the committee's chairman, said everyone will have a chance to speak their piece, eventually.
"We have others who have waited their turn, and its their turn tonight," Jenkins told the crowd at Ecker Hill International Middle School. "If you weren't satisfied this evening we understand many won't be you're welcome to come on to our next meetings."Wednesday's meeting was the third in a series of traveling meetings of the interim committee. Lawmakers are crisscrossing the state to evaluate SB81, a measure aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from getting jobs or receiving public benefits, which is set to take effect in July 2009.