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Utah business leaders push for immigration reform

Published: Monday, June 10 2013 6:48 p.m. MDT

Sen. Mike Lee is sympathetic to the business leaders' desire for a larger workforce.

J. Scott Applewhite, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah business leaders are telling Utah's senators and representatives that now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform.

The Partnership for a New American Economy, Salt Lake Chamber and 48 people in the business community signed their names to an open letter addressed to Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, and Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Chris Stewart, R-Utah, Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

The letter appeared as a full-page advertisement in Utah newspapers Sunday, urging the congressional delegation to "move forward with what is practical and in the best interest of the nation."

The bill, a bipartisan effort crafted by four Republican and four Democratic senators — the Gang of Eight — offers a path to citizenship for many of the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants while seeking ways to strengthen the nation's security.

Two votes are scheduled Tuesday on procedural matters and lawmakers hope to reach resolution before the Fourth of July holiday break.

Clark Ivory, CEO of Ivory Homes and one of the 48 people who signed the advertisement, said the business community wants action from Washington lawmakers.

"We think that timing is everything and in this case we know that this summer we have an opportunity in the Senate and in the House to get something done and we don't want to miss out on that," he said.

Ivory said they need pragmatic and assertive representatives pushing the bill forward. "It's far more difficult to be problem-solvers but that's what we need in Washington today," Ivory said.

The advertisement said the bill would allow high-skilled workers educated in the U.S. to find legal employment, it addresses border security concerns, and would allow foreign workers to strengthen the local economy, ultimately creating better jobs for American workers.

Sen. Mike Lee's representative, Brian Phillips, said the advertisement and the Salt Lake Chamber actually makes a case for turning back comprehensive immigration reform.

Phillips said the vote on Tuesday will decide whether the bill will be the vehicle for immigration reform. And Lee's answer to that is "no."

"(The open letter) vastly understates the problems with this bill," Phillips said. Lee claims the bill holds certain issues hostage, like border control, which Lee has said needs greater scrutiny.

He said Lee is sympathetic to the business leaders' desire for a larger workforce.

"That's why they should be as frustrated as (Lee) is that they're forcing this massive bill to go through and holding these kinds of provisions hostage," he said.

Sunday, Lee, R-Utah released his view of what he said is the "immigration version of Obamacare," pushing instead for tackling immigration reform in smaller pieces.

He said the original "Gang of Eight" bill promised strict border security and allowed citizenship for immigrants here without documentation.

"But once the 'gang' produced actual legislation and once senators, the media and the public began to read the bill, it was clear the talking points didn't reflect reality," he said.

Hatch was not reached for comment. But the senator, an original co-sponsor of the Dream Act for younger immigrants, has repeatedly stated that the nation needs immigration reform and has emerged as a key figure in the current debate.

He spent May pushing for provisions in the bill that would increase the number of temporary visas available for skilled workers.

Ivory said the bill would boost the Utah economy.

"We have need of workers both on the high-end and the low-end to make this economy tick, and we can't wait any longer," he said.

Jason Mathis with the Downtown Alliance, another signee of the open letter, said the business community wants Congress to understand how the majority of Utahns feel.

"We can't let this die," Mathis said. "We have been waiting for this for far too long. Congress has abdicated their responsibility and neglected to deal with this critical issue."

He said one of the reasons comprehensive immigration reform makes sense is because all the issues in the bill are related and should be dealt with at one time.

Mathis said the business community will continue to vocalize and engage political leaders to make sure they understand how important immigration reform is to them.

"This bill is a constructive starting point," he said. "Now we need our congressional delegation to play a constructive role in improving it and passing it and moving forward this summer."

Contributing: Richard Piatt

eeagar@deseretnews.com

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