Mike Terry, Deseret News
William Van Wagenen unfurls a banner at a rally to call for the Republican led legislature to stop any and all state sponsored legislation dealing with Immigration on the south steps of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday, Jan. 24, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — A citizens initiative petition drive aimed at putting an anti-illegal immigrant referendum on the ballot next year in Salt Lake County kicked off Thursday.

About 50 members of the Citizens Aligned to Secure Utah's Prosperity, or CATSUP, gathered outside the Utah Department of Workforce Services employment center downtown to pick up petition packets.

"I'm hoping to open people's eyes up to what is actually happening out here," said David Judd, of West Valley City.

Judd, who went through the training program at Deseret Industries, said he sees illegal immigrants "pretty much every day" in his ongoing job search.

He said he's "trying to get them out of here" by helping to gather signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2012 ballot.

Cherrell Thomas, a Salt Lake City housing manager who moved from Arizona four years ago, said she's "not against any of the races." But hiring illegal immigrants, Thomas said, is not fair to American workers.

"This will make or break us," she said. "And we're at the breaking point."

The petition from initiative veteran and former Utah Congressman Merrill Cook would penalize county employers who hire undocumented workers by first suspending and then revoking their business licenses.

The petition is also intended to stop a controversial state guest worker program passed by the 2011 Legislature and set to take effect in two years or sooner if a federal waiver is granted. GOP delegates to the Republican Party state convention and others have already called for the repeal of that legislation, HB116.

Speaker after speaker told the crowd that illegal workers were taking jobs away from American citizens.

Eli Cawley of the Utah Minuteman Project said the effort is "all about jobs for our people."

The petition drive is unusual because it is limited to Salt Lake County, unlike Cook's past efforts to change state law through citizens initiatives. He said other petition drives are expected to be under way soon in Utah County and other local governments.

Cook said tougher requirements  to qualify an initiative for the statewide ballot put in place in recent years prompted his new approach. This time, he said, the group has until April 15 to collect the 37,000 registered voter signatures needed to get on the Salt Lake County ballot.

They plan to collect thousands of signatures during Monday's Days of '47 Parade through downtown. Several people stopped to sign the petition at Thursday's late afternoon gathering.

Dave Anderson, a truck driver from Bluffdale, said he came to sign the petition after hearing about it on talk radio.

"I have a lot of relatives that are in construction who have been pushed out of work," Anderson said. "I'm just here to show my support."

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