SALT LAKE CITY — Two lawmakers pushing enforcement-only illegal immigration proposals are digging in their heels against efforts to combine their bills with others because they believe the result would be amnesty.
Reps. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, and Chris Herrod, R-Provo, say in a news release a comprehensive bill isn't possible "given the focus of the guest worker bills on amnesty for illegal aliens."
The two House members came to that conclusion Thursday after a meeting with several legislators — some proposing immigration bills and some not. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, organized the meeting in an effort to start building a "practical" solution.
"The guest worker bills discussed all contain an amnesty element for individuals currently in the United States illegally and I cannot support that," Sandstrom said in a news release. "I have heard from many thousands of Utahns who want a strong enforcement bill passed this session and I will focus on that."
But Bramble said that's a mischaracterization of bills sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden. Robles' bill calls for accountability and state-issued work permits for undocumented immigrants. Stephenson and Wright are proposing guest worker programs.
"Trying to imply that anybody is trying to propose an amnesty bill is simply not accurate," Bramble said.
While Robles called the meeting productive and open, she said it was "obvious that everyone wasn't in the same place."
No one at the meeting, which included the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, tried to co-opt Sandstrom's and Herrod's bills nor did anyone dissuade them from running them, he said. Sandstrom is proposing an Arizona-style enforcement-only bill, while Herrod wants to penalize businesses for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
"The sticking point is what do with those (illegal immigrants) who are already here," Herrod said, calling it a gulf that can't be bridged.
"I cannot support guest worker bills that reward those who have violated our laws, that discriminate against people who play by the rules and that allow disreputable employers to profit from illegal activities."
Bramble said it's impossible to deport the more than 100,000 illegal immigrants in Utah. Any legislation must contain not only enforcement but a means for dealing with those already in the state.
"There are some practical realities we have to consider here as we engage in this debate," he said.
The several bills having varying degrees of backing, but none have full support of lawmakers, Bramble said.
"The fact of the matter is neither Herrod nor Sandstrom have a corner on the marketplace of ideas on e-verify and enforcement," he said. "The question is what are the building blocks of a proposal that can gain widespread support."
Bramble said there does seem to be some desire among lawmakers to follow the Utah Compact, a set of guiding principles on illegal immigration, such as a local law enforcement focus on crime and to not unnecessarily separate families.
Herrod said he and Sandstrom aren't willing to budge and will forge ahead with their bills. "Basically, at this point that's the only thing we can do," he said.
Obvious that everyone wasn't in the same place. It was a productive meeting that Sandstrom was open, but didn't know about the press release. Not surprised by Herrod's take that it was an amesty bill.