SALT LAKE CITY — Local faith, government and business leaders expressed optimism Monday over the House Republicans’ new standards for immigration reform and the renewed push by Congress to overhaul the nation’s outdated immigration laws.
The nation’s laws “need to track with the reality of the world we live in today,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams during a conference call Monday, which was sponsored by the pro-immigration reform organizations the Partnership for a New American Economy and Bibles, Badges and Business.
“What we know as we look at this issue from the local level is that any solution needs has to be federally driven. Our country and community will be stronger if we’re able to come to consensus on immigration reform in a way where we recognize the effect immigration has on our businesses, the importance of strengthening families — and that includes immigrant families — but also recognizes we need to have enforcement,” McAdams said.
The standards, released late last week, emphasize border enforcement and employment verification but call for humane treatment of youths brought to the United States by parents who were not authorized to be in the country.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, but the effort stalled in the House. House leaders prefer to address multiple bills that address the issue on a piecemeal basis.
The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, said faith leaders are “incredibly encouraged by the Republican initiative to set forth some principles to get immigration back on track."
Personally, the Rev. Klemz said he believes it is important for Congress to address the nation’s immigration policies because “they reflect the very being and core of who we are as a nation.”
The Rev. Klemz said he and his wife have been to immigration court twice in the past 12 years to petition for her green card.
“Twice we have been refused a green card. We are in limbo, living not only in fear of deportation but in limbo of administrative hold,” he said.
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; but no special path to citizenship for people who broke immigration laws.
Stan Lockhart, former chairman of the Utah Republican Party and government affairs manager for Micron, said passing sensible immigration reform would honor the ideals upon which the nation was founded.
“If you read the Declaration (of Independence), they talk about the God-given rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, they’re guaranteed to all men and women, wherever they might be. Essentially, I believe a sensible immigration system enshrines those rights for all those people,” Lockhart said.
For businesses, immigration reform would provide clarity for employers and help ensure well-educated college graduates from other nations could remain in the United States to put their knowledge and innovation to work.
“Most important to us is reforming the legal immigration system so that those foreign nationals who come to the United States and study and are ready to come out and help build businesses aren’t pushed away and can come work for growing American companies,” said Jonathan Johnson, executive vice chairman of Overstock.com.
Overstock.com, for instance, needs mathematicians, statisticians and people with technology degrees.
“It’s so hard to hire the best and brightest coming out our of our great universities under our current immigration system. Other countries realize this and are working to recruit those American-trained Ph.D.s to come to their countries and create competition for U.S.-based businesses,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said the House Republicans’ 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. We are encouraged by the developments and pledge our support for moving forward,” he said.
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