Jason Chaffetz

PROVO — If special-interest groups want to talk about his suggestion to hold illegal immigrants in tent cities, Jason Chaffetz said Thursday they should talk to him and stop sending press releases.

The Japanese American Citizens League is the latest group to criticize Chaffetz, the Republican with a prohibitive lead in the race to win Utah's 3rd District seat in Congress.

"Mr. Chaffetz has fumbled the ball on the important issue of immigration and turned it into an engine of fear towards immigrants," JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori wrote in a press release issued Wednesday.

Chaffetz said the JACL has not contacted him and didn't even send the press release to him.

"They haven't even tried to talk to me," Chaffetz said. "I'd be happy to sit down and explain my position on immigration. My immediate reaction is that press release is based on bogus lies intended to inflame media coverage."

The Western Governors Association has proposed construction of regional correctional facilities to hold immigrants convicted of crimes. Chaffetz has suggested tent cities surrounded by barbed wire instead, as a way to cut costs.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-California, chided Chaffetz earlier this month, calling his plan offensive. Honda said the suggestion raised the

specter of the World War II-era camps in which the federal government held Japanese Americans.

Honda himself was detained a little boy in one of the camps.

The image was echoed Thursday by the JACL.

Chaffetz said Honda admitted on KSL radio last week that he had not read Chaffetz's proposal.

"They're trying to make something out of nothing," Chaffetz said. "This is an act of desperation to try to gain attention for a Democrat."

Chaffetz holds a commanding lead over Democrat Bennion Spencer, according to a poll conducted Sept. 8-11 by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News and KSL-TV. The poll showed Chaffetz ahead, 60 percent to 18 percent.

The JACL press release said Chaffetz proposed "prison camps" and called for meaningful and comprehensive immigration reform.

Chaffetz asked Honda to apologize for saying his plan was based on ethnicity.

"The only apology that should be made is by Mr. Chaffetz to the American public for injecting extremism into a sensitive and serious debate on immigration," Honda wrote in an e-mailed response to a question from the Deseret News earlier this month. "It is naive at best and disingenuous at worst, for Mr. Chaffetz to claim that his proposal to imprison undocumented immigrants behind barbed wire would not incite resentment against ethnic minorities or lead to racial profiling."

Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, called Chaffetz's plan "racist, offensive and un-Christlike" because his Web site only talks about Mexican illegals.

Chaffetz said critics are not considering his position, just reacting to Spencer's criticisms.

"It's not prison camps" for all illegal immigrants, Chaffetz said. "That's not what it is. My plan is to target the 600,000 fugitive aliens who are people we need to go after. We still need to target legal immigration."

Chaffetz has called for reforming federal immigration laws. He would allow illegal immigrants to gain guest-worker status but only a temporary basis. He favors deportation of all illegal immigrants, who only then could begin applying to return.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com