It just becomes punitive. It walls us off. (They) want a gated world. It has nothing to do with reality. It has nothing to do with what we really need to do with our border. —Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Sergio Garcia has a ready smile as he cuts and packages meat for customers at Campos Market, where he works to send money to his wife and ailing mother in Mexico.
Garcia said he loves his job as a butcher, and until a year ago, his wife and two small children were with him in Utah. They have since returned to Puebla to care for family members there.
Now, Garcia watches daily as proposed immigration reform that could reunite his family is debated on all fronts.
"I was talking yesterday to my wife on the phone," Garcia said Thursday, pausing from his work to converse in Spanish. "She was asking me what I had heard about the reform, because last week it seemed like we took a step up. But we're the same as always. We all get excited, and then nothing happens. I don't know what's going to happen."
At Anaya's Market, Teresa Fuentes selects fresh fruits and vegetables for her parents, both of whom have diabetes, and her teenage daughter. She comes home from work each night to care for them, but always finds time to check the news "to see what hope we have."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, hesitates to speculate what will happen in the House following the Senate's passage of the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill.
It appears the House will take "a step-by-step approach," he said during a telephone interview Thursday.
“My concern on issues of this magnitude and complexity, that working in a consensus, bipartisan way is the best path to take," Matheson said. "My concern right now in the House of Representatives, there have been comments made at the front end (suggesting) this issue is going to be more of a partisan process. That’s not the way you go about making public policy.”
Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah, said a piecemeal approach would enable House members to focus on border security rather than the humanitarian aspects of the issue. That's problematic, she said.
"It just becomes punitive. It walls us off. (They) want a gated world. It has nothing to do with reality. It has nothing to do with what we really need to do with our border," Martinez said. "What disturbs me the most is how far off the mark this is in terms of the Utah Compact."
The Utah Compact was signed Nov. 11, 2010. It outlined principles to guide the immigration debate in Utah, urging federal solutions and policies that did not separate families.
Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said he has been closely following events in the House as it begins to take up the immigration issue.
The Senate demonstrated "tremendous wisdom and leadership" in passing a comprehensive immigration bill, Wester said, expressing his appreciation for Sen. Orrin Hatch's support of the legislation.
"I think he and his colleagues saw we need to do this, that this is the right thing to do," he said.
Wester said he believes mainstream Americans back the Senate bill, which he said he prefers to a piecemeal approach.
"If I were in the House of Representatives, I’d rather ride the wave than be submerged in it," he said. "I think the wave of support for comprehensive reform is there."
Members of Congress must not lose sight that "this is a human issue and people are suffering in the meantime," Wester said.
The bishop said he is praying that the House will follow the lead of the Senate.
"I'm really praying hard that they don't put up these tired, hackneyed arguments that I believe really don't hold water," he said.
Ron Mortensen, founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said he believes the piecemeal approach "is probably a good idea in the sense we need to take care of first things first," such as border control and interior enforcement.
"If you have an overflowing wash basin, you don't bail out the water. You've got to stop the water and then figure out what the problem is," he said.
Mortensen said he prefers the approach the Utah Legislature takes by dealing with issues in individual bills because each has to stand on its own merits.
The comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate was tantamount to buying votes, he said.
"The defense contractors made out like bandits. There's $5 billion for security measures in it for them," Mortensen said. "When you start doing those big bills, they become Christmas trees and everyone wants to hang their ornament on it."
Mark Alvarez, a Spanish language radio talk show host and attorney, said he does not wholly oppose a piecemeal approach so long as the House addresses "the critical issue of legalization first."
"Most of the piecemeal arguments I've heard sound like a pretext to keep immigration reform from passing or to delay legalization," he said.10 comments on this story
Matheson said it is too soon to know what form House legislation will take. However, he believes there is momentum to address the issue.
"You’ve had an immigration bill pass one half of the Congress already, and that hasn't happened during my career. There's clearly more momentum than there has been in the past," Matheson said.
Whatever the House does, it won't be soon enough for Fuentes.
"We wish they would decide now," she said.
"Many people, we came for good. We came to work, to move forward and to live better," Fuentes said. "We want to feel like, yes, they're going to do something."