It was like asking the Greeks to have a civil conversation with the Trojans on the eve of war.
The Sutherland Institute and the Salt Lake Chamber hosted a panel discussion Wednesday on the economic and cultural implications of the omnibus immigration bill SB81, bringing together opposing sides of the debate.
Audience members and four panel speakers were impassioned and unwavering as they tried to express their views on the bill that goes into effect July 1, and one man was expelled from the conference room.
Among its many provisions, SB81 creates new requirements for businesses that contract with the state. The businesses must screen employees for legal presence status. The bill also calls for an immigration enforcement role for state and local law enforcement agencies.
Reps. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, and Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said the bill is a necessary tool to neutralize Utah as a magnet state for illegal immigrants and would be good for Utah's economy.
"(SB81) protects businesses that hire U.S. citizens and legal immigrants from unfair competition from unscrupulous employers using illegal aliens," Sandstrom said.
He said the bill supports local economies by encouraging employers to hire workers who will spend their money in the community, rather than hiring people who will send money back to their countries of origin.
"Is SB81 good for business? Absolutely, it is," Sandstrom said.
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, and Dee Rowland of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese said the bill would have negative effects on the economy and has dangerous racial undertones.
Robles argued for compassion when dealing with a law that has the potential to break families apart, saying many children have been born to illegal parents on American soil.
"You may deport the parents, but you cannot deport their children," Robles said. "This is where the compassionate argument comes in. These are families."
"They're not U.S. citizens," one man shouted.
"The children are U.S. citizens," she said.
"No, they're not," the man said. "In the Constitution, it says that one parent needs to be a U.S. citizen."
The man later was asked to leave the room after sparring with Robles again.
"I thought this was going to be a healthy, civil and constructive dialogue," Rod Castillo, executive director of the Pete Suazo Business Center, said afterwards. "Instead, we had people stating their beliefs without looking for solutions. I failed to be enriched, other than being reminded that there is a division."