People of Utah deserve to have political leaders who will make progress and not just make excuses. It’s time to show some backbone and some leadership on this issue and that’s our expectation of our congressional delegation. —Jason Mathis, executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce
SALT LAKE CITY — There was a palpable frustration among the diverse group of Utahns who came together Wednesday for a roundtable discussion on the need for immigration reform.
It's like being stuck in "an odd episode of 'Groundhog Day' sometimes when it comes to immigration reform," said Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, referring to the 1993 movie.
"Every morning the bell rings and we look at the clock and we say, 'Not again.' It's the same day over and over again."
The roundtable, held in the offices of the Salt Lake Chamber, was conducted simultaneously with similar gatherings in 60 other congressional districts across the country Wednesday.
Business and community leaders nationwide "once again" came together to urge Congress to reform the nation's immigration laws and to release results of nationwide and state polls that indicate strong support for immigration reform, said Tim Wheelwright, a Salt Lake attorney who specializes in business-related immigration law.
The vast majority of Americans — and an even higher percentage of Utahns — say the nation’s immigration system is broken, according to poll results.
Eighty-three percent of Utahns say it is important that Congress act on immigration reform this year, compared to 80 percent of Americans. The poll of 501 likely voters in Utah, conducted June 25-26, found 91 percent of Utahns believe the nation's immigration system needs fixing.
The poll of 1,000 Americans, also conducted by Harper Polling of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, showed 85 percent of people nationally believe the system is broken.
While House leaders have said the likelihood of immigration reform this year is slim. But Wheelwright said results of national and state-level polls are clear-cut.
"My goodness, is this not the political cover they need to be the leaders on this issue?" he asked.
The poll results were released by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. Polls were conducted in late June nationally and in 26 states.
The polls show strong support for principles outlined by House leaders earlier this year, which include securing the border, expanding visas for high-skill and agricultural workers and provisions that would allow young people brought to the United States without authorization an opportunity to earn citizenship, among other planks. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill one year ago but the effort has stalled in the House.
Jason Mathis, executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said a representative sample of Utahns who responded to the poll gives Congress a clear mandate.
"People of Utah deserve to have political leaders who will make progress and not just make excuses. It’s time to show some backbone and some leadership on this issue and that’s our expectation of our congressional delegation," Mathis said.
Chavez-Houck said the poll numbers reflect the desires of Americans and Utahns regarding the nation's broken immigration system and unworkable laws.
"For me, a lot of this is taking the poll numbers and having conversations with our congressional delegation and ask them what they're going to do to move the needle forward instead of what are they going to do to push back," she said.
Utah's roundtable discussion included voices for high-tech companies that are unable to fill positions because of visa caps for highly skilled and educated workers to agriculture interests speaking on behalf of Utah farmers whose crops literally rot in the fields or on trees because of a lack of farm laborers.
"The uncertainty we see today in immigration costs us a great deal of money, not only in expenses but also on the income side," said Leland Hogan, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. "Until we have that solved, we’re not going to see our gross domestic product increase."
Politics and business aside, Olga De La Cruz of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said the issue has a human dimension.
It took De La Cruz's aunt 10 years to go through the nation's immigration system to enter the United States legally from Mexico. By the time her entry was approved, her son was 18 years old and was not allowed to accompany her.
"So this family is separated trying to do the right thing. I don't think that's a system we want to support," De La Cruz said.