SALT LAKE CITY — Supporters of immigrants' rights gathered Saturday to say they are angry about the Legislature's attempts at a "Utah solution" to illegal immigration.
Chants of "shame on Sandstrom" rang out at the Salt Lake City-County Building, with the crowd of a few hundred people declaring that although a package of bills passed late Friday night includes a guest worker program, other measures including the new version of Orem Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement bill made it unacceptable.
Speakers at the rally organized by the group United for Social Justice urged attendees to bombard Gov. Gary Herbert with phone calls asking him to veto the immigration bills, which would establish a migrant worker partnership with Mexico and penalize businesses that employ undocumented workers.
Organizer Melodia Gutierrez, reacting to unhappy legislators who called the guest worker program "amnesty," said it is "amnesty with exploitation" that would leave workers vulnerable to the "whims" of their employers.
"The time to act is now," Gutierrez told the crowd. "Please do not let Utah become Arizona."
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson spoke along with activists and religious leaders before the group marched to the Capitol.
The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, cited Bible passages advocating care for strangers.
"There's no wall between people and the love of God," he said, calling for "comprehensive, fair, humane immigration reform at the federal level."
Activist Archie Archuleta condemned the "hate-filled rhetoric" he said has taken over the immigration debate. He praised Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank for opposing efforts to make police check the immigration status of people they arrest, prompting the crowd to chant the chief's name.
"Utah has done some ugly things to us," Archuleta said, before pleading with Herbert to veto the immigration package. "That's the only thing left to us."
The key bill, Rep. Bill Wright's HB116, would set up a program for illegal immigrants to obtain a work permit through the state Department of Public Safety while forcing those who apply to pay fines of up to $2,500. Illegal immigrants in the state before May 11, 2011, would be eligible for the permit.
The bill also requires businesses with at least 15 employees to verify their legal status and requires police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a felony or class A misdemeanor.
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