Immigration reform an uncertain waiting game for Utahns

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 7:55 p.m. MDT

Maria Fuentas and her daughter Teresa Fuentas laugh while shopping at Anaya's Market in Salt Lake City Thursday, July 11, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sergio Garcia has a ready smile as he cuts and packages meat for customers at Campos Market, where he works to send money to his wife and ailing mother in Mexico.

Garcia said he loves his job as a butcher, and until a year ago, his wife and two small children were with him in Utah. They have since returned to Puebla to care for family members there.

Now, Garcia watches daily as proposed immigration reform that could reunite his family is debated on all fronts.

"I was talking yesterday to my wife on the phone," Garcia said Thursday, pausing from his work to converse in Spanish. "She was asking me what I had heard about the reform, because last week it seemed like we took a step up. But we're the same as always. We all get excited, and then nothing happens. I don't know what's going to happen."

At Anaya's Market, Teresa Fuentes selects fresh fruits and vegetables for her parents, both of whom have diabetes, and her teenage daughter. She comes home from work each night to care for them, but always finds time to check the news "to see what hope we have."

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, hesitates to speculate what will happen in the House following the Senate's passage of the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill.

It appears the House will take "a step-by-step approach," he said during a telephone interview Thursday.

“My concern on issues of this magnitude and complexity, that working in a consensus, bipartisan way is the best path to take," Matheson said. "My concern right now in the House of Representatives, there have been comments made at the front end (suggesting) this issue is going to be more of a partisan process. That’s not the way you go about making public policy.”

Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah, said a piecemeal approach would enable House members to focus on border security rather than the humanitarian aspects of the issue. That's problematic, she said.

"It just becomes punitive. It walls us off. (They) want a gated world. It has nothing to do with reality. It has nothing to do with what we really need to do with our border," Martinez said. "What disturbs me the most is how far off the mark this is in terms of the Utah Compact."

The Utah Compact was signed Nov. 11, 2010. It outlined principles to guide the immigration debate in Utah, urging federal solutions and policies that did not separate families.

Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said he has been closely following events in the House as it begins to take up the immigration issue.

The Senate demonstrated "tremendous wisdom and leadership" in passing a comprehensive immigration bill, Wester said, expressing his appreciation for Sen. Orrin Hatch's support of the legislation.

"I think he and his colleagues saw we need to do this, that this is the right thing to do," he said.

Wester said he believes mainstream Americans back the Senate bill, which he said he prefers to a piecemeal approach.

"If I were in the House of Representatives, I’d rather ride the wave than be submerged in it," he said. "I think the wave of support for comprehensive reform is there."

Members of Congress must not lose sight that "this is a human issue and people are suffering in the meantime," Wester said.

The bishop said he is praying that the House will follow the lead of the Senate.

"I'm really praying hard that they don't put up these tired, hackneyed arguments that I believe really don't hold water," he said.

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