News Column

Utah Chamber of Commerce CEOs Eager for Immigration Solutions

April 11, 2013

Top of Utah chamber leaders are at odds with Utah's two U.S. senators over the pace at which Congress is developing a comprehensive immigration plan for the country.

"We are telling them we need to get the dialogue going," Davis Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Smith told the Standard Examiner on Wednesday.

Smith was one of eight Utah chamber leaders who gathered Tuesday at a news conference in Salt Lake City to urge Utah's congressional leaders to solve the nation's immigration problems.

Utah's "Big Eight" business chambers, which include the Ogden/Weber and Davis chambers of commerce, have united in supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

But officials with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, claim it is inaccurate to say Hatch wants to slow anything down.

Hatch recently signed on to a letter asking that any immigration reform legislation go through the Senate in a "regular order," but that was done to make certain the public is privy to what is in the bill, rather than the senator wanting to slow things down, said Matthew Harakal, press secretary at Hatch's Washington D.C. office.

"You can't rush these things through just because you want a solution," Harakal said.

When it comes to immigration reform, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is against any amnesty proposals and "pathway to citizenship" plans, but is open to dialogue and debate on the issue, said a worker in Lee's Washington, D.C., office, who did not identify himself.

Utah business leaders maintain they are not backing a specific bill, but rather a concept that would be beneficial to the nation's economy.

The chamber presidents emphasized that Congress must, this year, modernize the country's immigration system so the country can continue to attract the best and brightest to its workforce and keep the nation's economy competitive.

"All the stuff we have done at a state level is window dressing. A state can't control the country's borders. We are telling Congress it is time to start working together and solve this problem that has been here for decades," Smith said.

It is not specific legislation local business leaders support, but a concept that makes it possible for the country to provide a legal path for immigrants to work, contribute and pay taxes to the nation, versus educating them and then sending them back to their homeland, only to have them compete against the U.S. economy, Smith said.

"There are several humanitarian reasons (to fix this)," Smith said. But the chamber's focus, he said, is at the practical level.

"Everybody is wanting to homogenize immigrants, thinking of them as low-income constituents, when in fact they are an important component of the nation's workforce."

And while Utah business leaders look for congressional leaders to pick up the pace to resolve this issue, Smith said, some congressional leaders are of the mindset that they should move slowly.

"Today's immigration laws are not written for today's Utah businesses. We will not be able to continue to grow without real immigration solutions," Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Hardman said in a prepared statement. "In order to compete in the 21st century we have to be able to update our immigration laws. A modern economy needs modern immigration laws, and Congress and the White House need to act today."

Hatch representatives, however, say Utah's senior senator is acting.

"The fact is that Senator Hatch has and continues to push for immigration reform -- with several of his legislative efforts having become law," Harakal said.

Harakal said he understands the frustrations of Utah chamber leaders, but those groups did not reach out to Hatch's office prior to holding their Tuesday news conference.

Some of the immigration legislation Hatch is working on specifically deals with highly skilled workers, another on agricultural workers, Harakal said.

Hatch wants a solution to this issue, but wants regular order, so people understand what's in the bill, Harakal said.

"What we are trying to prevent is another (President Barack) Obama (health) care (reform) bill," he said.

In addition to the Davis Chamber of Commerce, Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce and Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the "Big Eight" comprises chambers from Utah Valley, Sandy, Park City, Cache County and St. George.

Source: (c)2013 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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