Jordan Allred, Deseret News
The nation cannot afford to wait any longer for immigration reform, state legislative leaders wrote in a letter to Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart and Jim Matheson that urges action.

SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of the Utah House and Senate and former Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, are calling on Utah’s congressional delegation to pass immigration reform this year.

“The current system is broken, and the United States cannot afford to wait any longer to fix it,” said the letter to Republican Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart and Democrat Jim Matheson.

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill intended to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. The legislation provided a path to citizenship for people unauthorized to live in the United States but also beefed up border security and required employers to check all job applicants’ legal status using the government’s E-Verify system.

The comprehensive bill ran into roadblocks in the House, because many House leaders have said they prefer a piecemeal approach to new immigration legislation.

“We personally understand how difficult it can be to pass complicated legislation, but it is necessary. On behalf of those farmers, ranchers, businesses and individuals in our state supporting reform, we ask that you work with your colleagues to finalize legislation that can be passed into law this year,” said the letter, signed by Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart and more than 20 other Republican state lawmakers. The letter was made public Tuesday.

The letter says there is “broad support” for fixing the nation’s broken immigration system, including among Republican voters.

“Recently, the Tea Party Express, Americans for Tax Reform and Partnership for a New American Economy released a poll showing that 71 percent of tea party-aligned Republican primary voters believe it is important to pass reform this year.

The letter highlights the challenges of business owners in high skill and low skill industries who are unable to expand their operations due to workforce shortages.

“When these industries are stifled, so is job creation for all Americans,” the letter states.

The letter also notes that American agriculture is producing below its capacity because ranchers and farmers cannot meet their labor demands.

“According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, labor shortages in the agriculture industry are causing a loss of over $3 billion in GDP and over $1 billion in farm income,” the letter says.

The Utah Legislature passed a package of immigration-related bills in 2011, which some lawmakers said were proposed because of congressional inaction in dealing with the nation’s broken and outdated immigration laws.

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Recently, a federal judge struck down portions of one of the laws, a state immigration enforcement measure. The law had been on hold as a federal judge considered a constitutional challenge waged by civil rights attorneys.

Two other immigration-related laws passed that year were shelved until July 1, 2015, under a bill passed by the Utah Legislature in 2013 that pushed back their enactment dates. Those laws addressed issues related to guest workers and a pilot program to allow Utahns to sponsor foreign nationals.