J. Scott Applewhite, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Yolanda Francisco-Nez saw two American flags flying outside Wednesday and was reminded of the Pledge of Allegiance that promises "liberty and justice for all."
"Now is the time for immigration reform to occur," the coordinator for the Human Rights Commission in Salt Lake City said.
She was one of more than a dozen business, religious, government, law enforcement and community leaders who met Wednesday at the Salt Lake Main Library to find common ground on comprehensive immigration reform and plan ways to move forward if federal immigration reform fails to pass.
"We've talked in a very forward-leaning way about what immigration reform means for us in our community and for society," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who convened the round-table discussion in response to a prompt from the White House.
Salt Lake's discussion occurred one day after the Senate voted to allow debate about the federal comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744.
Comprehensive immigration reform is part of a bipartisan effort by four Republican and four Democratic senators — also known as the Gang of Eight — that would create a way for people living in the country illegally to gain citizenship and strengthen border security.
The Salt Lake meeting included government leaders from both sides of the political aisle, Republican Summit County Councilman David Ure, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake.
"When it comes to an issue like immigration, this should in no way be a partisan issue," Becker said. "This is about our communities. It's about people in our society and it's about opportunity."
Weiler said he is an advocate of states' rights but believes immigration reform is "solidly within (the federal government's) purview."
Although not everyone may be satisfied by the bill as it stands, "compromise is the way that we get things done in a democratic society," Becker said.
During the 90-minute meeting, the group came up with two conclusions, according to Becker. The first, that the federal immigration laws are broken. The second, that Congress needs to pass comprehensive reform "as soon as possible."
Discussions focused on the effects of reform on Utah's communities, economy and individuals. A central theme was "realizing (the) human potential" in Utah, Becker said. "With immigration reform, we will get the full benefit of members of our communities."
He said education and families came up as priorities in the meeting as well as the agreement that the economy will profit by increasing opportunities for those who are not legal citizens of the United States.
Immigrants not yet authorized to live in the United States comprised 3.8 percent of the population in Utah in 2010, according to Pew Hispanic research. That's compared to 3.7 percent, or more than 11 million, nationwide. That group also comprised 5.4 percent of Utah's and 5.2 percent of the national labor forces.
This meeting occurred on the same day that 400 immigrants were naturalized in Salt Lake City.
"Thank goodness," Becker said of the naturalizations. "I'm sure they went through quite a path to get here."
If federal immigration reform fails to pass, Becker told the Deseret News, the city will do its best to help people feel secure, and to provide educational opportunities to residents regardless of their citizenship status.
"Immigration reform is critical to helping us be successful as a city," he said.
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