SALT LAKE CITY — Local faith and business leaders are lauding the release of House Republicans’ standards for immigration reform, and they are calling on Congress to pass legislation in 2014.
The standards, made public Thursday, say border security and employment verification are priorities but emphasize that it is time to provide legal residence and citizenship for children brought to the United States by unauthorized immigrant parents.
“As citizens, we welcome any positive political progress for fair and humane immigration reform. Immigration policies express who we are as a nation, influence our nation’s future character, and affect the lives of millions of people,” said the Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Salt Lake City.
“From our faith perspective, compassion compels us to be caught up in the movement, which stands for welcome, dignity and safekeeping for families who are vulnerable to deportation.”
Immigration reform is needed to provide an atmosphere of predictability for businesses, said Lane Beattie, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.
“These principles represent bold leadership on a complex issue. Utah has helped lead this discussion, because we know immigration reform will grow our economy and provide predictability that businesses need,” Beattie said.
“We are encouraged by the developments and pledge our support for moving forward.”
Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek, agrees that Utah has been a leader in the national immigration conversation. That’s why, for three years running, he’s sponsored a resolution that the Utah Legislature express support for the Utah Compact.
The Utah Compact is a statement of principles to guide the nation’s immigration debate. It urges federal solutions and policies that do not separate families. Original signers of the document included business, religious, government and community leaders.
However, the resolution has never been assigned to a legislative committee for consideration. Hemingway said he hopes this year will be different.
“I’d love to see the state Legislature support the business groups and church groups that have supported the compact. But for the past two years, I haven’t been able to get it out of (the House) Rules (Committee). I thought I’d try it one more time and see if we could get support.
“I understand this has to be done federally. I get that. In my opinion, with all of our business leaders and church leaders who signed the compact and who support it, I think another jolt of the Legislature supporting it might help this along a little bit," Hemingway said.
There are some parallels between the Utah Compact and the Standards for Immigration Reform issued by Republican congressional leaders.
The Utah Compact's five planks include federal solutions, law enforcement, families, the economy and a free society.
Meanwhile, the six standards for immigration reform include border security and interior enforcement; a visa tracking system; employment verification and workplace enforcement; reforms to the legal immigration system; youth; and no special path to citizenship for people who broke immigration laws.
Former Utah Republican Party Chairman Stan Lockhart, a Micron executive, said the current immigration system is "de facto amnesty. Passing sensible immigration reform would change that and would honor the ideals upon which our nation was founded, principally freedom and liberty."
Moreover, immigration reform would be one of the best things Congress could do for the nation's economy.
"Republicans must come to the table to be a part of the solution,” Lockhart said.