SALT LAKE CITY -- The heads of Utah's Chambers of Commerce had tough words for Utah's senators about immigration as they called on Congress to fix the system that has been broken for decades.
Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce president Lane Beattie, backed by seven other chamber heads from around the state, uttered the call for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to take action in passing business-friendly immigration policies on Tuesday. Beattie said he was disappointed to learn the two senators are dragging their feet to push for immigration reform while he thinks they should be leading the charge.
"We need to act, and we need to have people that are statesmen that will step up and make things happen," Beattie said. "Maybe it is time for us to recall and be able to get some people who understand what we need in business."
Chamber leaders, including Utah Valley Chamber President Val Hale, all followed up Beattie by stating that immigration reform is a key for small and large businesses to succeed. Suggestions for opening up more visas for highly educated workers to remain in the United States, HB-1 visas, were called for as well as better policies for immigrant workers who come to work in the nation's agricultural industry. They also called upon Congress to create some type of path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
"What we would like to see and encourage from our congressional representatives is a modern immigration system that will bring people out of this black market and into a legal economy," Jim Smith, president of the Davis County Chamber, said.
Smith stated he would like to see a plan that would allow the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally to get to a point where they pay taxes and can eventually obtain citizenship. Beattie acknowledged, though, that he would not support an "amnesty" move similar to what Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s when the government granted U.S. citizenship to about 3 million immigrants who were in the country illegally.
Representatives with Hatch's office called Beattie's statements disappointing and frustrating. Hatch's press secretary, Matthew Harakal, noted that Beattie hasn't discussed immigration proposals with Hatch and said Utah's senior senator is pushing for immigration reforms.
"He just introduced legislation, the Immigration Innovation Act -- commonly called I-squared -- in January that fundamentally reforms America's high-skilled immigration system that has the backing of a bipartisan group of 25 senators and would allow highly educated, American-trained foreign workers to remain in the U.S. This bill has earned support from some of the most prominent names in the business community, including many in Utah," Harakal said in a written statement.
Harakal explained that Hatch is not against the comprehensive immigration reform proposal that might come from the eight senators, nicknamed the gang of eight, from both parties who are meeting behind closed doors in an attempt to craft immigration legislation. Harakal stated that Hatch wants to wait and see what the actual legislation will look like before he decides if he supports the proposal.
Lee pointed out in a released statement that the last time Congress rushed through legislation the country ended up with Obamacare. He stated that Beattie should know as well as anyone that a CEO would be immediately recalled by a board of directors if he signed a thousand-page agreement without reading it. Lee said he is simply asking for time to understand all the immigration proposals available instead of rushing through one proposal just so he can say he got something done.
"Immigration reform will have lasting effects for generations. Asking for a few weeks to make sure senators and Utahns understand what is in the bill is certainly not asking too much," Lee said.
In addition to calling out Hatch and Lee, Beattie discussed the Utah County Republican Party leadership's rejection of the Utah Compact, a document endorsed by the Salt Lake Chamber and the LDS Church, into their party platform.
"Bless their hearts," Beattie said with a smile.
Beattie went on to state that the party's central committee, which voted down the Utah Compact proposal when it was offered up last month, doesn't represent the view of Utah County Republicans at large.
"They are a group of people who booed when the presenters referred to the LDS Church," Beattie said.