LOGAN In the aftermath of a December 2006 raid at a local meat packing plant, the Rev. Clarence Sandoval, pastor of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish here, scrambled to make sure children had a place to go after school.
"It was devastating to our community, it took over 100 of our families," Sandoval said, speaking Thursday to members of the Immigration Interim Committee.
He discussed the arrest of 145 workers at the Hyrum Swift & Co. plant as part of a multi-state raid that netted more than 1,200 arrests at sites in six states.
"One child was saying where is my mom and dad," Sandoval said. "That is the reality we have to face."
The meeting was the second of the committee tasked with evaluating SB81, a measure aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from getting jobs or public benefits, which is set to take effect in July 2009.
The first meeting focused on law enforcement. On Thursday, the panel heard about the economic and human sides of the issue. People on all sides expressed frustration at what was repeatedly portrayed as a broken federal immigration system.
"It's a system that's not working well for anybody," said James Hamilton, director of company compliance for Swift & Co. Hamilton said his company lost roughly one in 14 workers during the 2006 raid despite participating in Basic Pilot, the precursor to the federal E-Verify system that checks new hires' work eligibility. And, he pointed out his company had previously been cited for having verification requirements that were too stringent.
While E-Verify catches mismatched names and Social Security numbers, it doesn't catch those who steal entire identities, he said. The employees arrested at Swift had real government-issued IDs they had obtained using stolen identities.
"Employers are in a bind," Hamilton said. "If they are presented a government issued ID card, it is a discriminatory act to refuse to accept that."
To that end, Hamilton suggested federal legislation to allow the Social Security Administration and Homeland Security to work together to catch identity theft. Short of that, he suggested, the most effective step Utah could take to prevent identity theft would be to enact "rigorous standards" on issuing ID cards.
A requirement that companies that contract with Utah use E-Verify is one of the provisions of SB81. And lawmakers had questions that were left unanswered about the potential economic impact and the accuracy of E-Verify.
"I've heard this a lot, there is going to be great impact to the community ... how many people are we talking about, what type of jobs?," asked Rep. Michael Noel, R- Kanab, the House sponsor of SB81. "Are we not giving our own American citizens the opportunity? ... I want to see this whole picture."
Steven E. Tyler, chairman of an Immigration Task Force implemented by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said his panel is evaluating the potential economic impacts.
"The Salt Lake Chamber is very, very concerned about E-Verify ... it may be 99 percent reliable, or it may be much less reliable," Tyler said. He added that employers participating in the task force try to play by the rules by hiring a legal workforce, and "they're all saying they can't get enough workers."
Committee co-chairman Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, probed Tyler on the chamber's participation in pushing for federal reform.
"You and your affiliate national chamber of commerce wield a big stick," he said. "Isn't there something you can do to get the federal government off their dead butts to do something?"
Tyler said the Salt Lake Chamber is working with the federal delegation, but any action is doubtful until after the presidential election.The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 27 in Park City.