In the wake of some controversial immigration orders by the Donald Trump administration, Utah politicians and business leaders gathered Tuesday to advocate for immigration reform.
President Trump’s actions have included enacting a temporary travel ban from seven countries. The Associated Press reported Tuesday morning that Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly signed memos making any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offense an enforcement priority.
The group New American Economy released data highlighting the economic contributions immigrants make in Utah each year as part of an effort to call on Congress to initiate immigration reform that makes it easier for people to be in the United States legally.
In Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the majority of Utah County’s population, 7.2 percent of the population is immigrants — or about 51,000 people. In 2014, those immigrants paid about $284.3 million in taxes, according to NAE’s statistics.
Utah’s 4th Congressional District, which includes the western part of Utah County, has a higher percentage of immigrants, at 10.5 percent, or 76,411 people, and paid $390.4 million in taxes.
Immigrants are a “force to be reckoned with” said Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, citing the $4 billion spending power immigrants have in the state.
“President Donald Trump, in a recent campaign, talked about building a wall — you may have heard of it,” Winder said. “But he also talked about a big beautiful door in that wall.”
That door, Winder said, would allow people into the country to help fill economic needs.
“We put forth a call today to build that big beautiful door, Congress,” Winder said. “And to have sensible immigration reform that can help the lives of men and women and the economy of the United States.”
Stan Lockhart, former Utah Republican Party chairman, noted that vetting is important to keep out a few people. But he said for most people the process to enter the country needs to be easier.
“If you are seeking freedom, of any kind, and you want to raise your family in America where they can be free ... then we should let them in,” Lockhart said.
Business and agricultural leaders in Utah also called for immigration reform, citing the contributions immigrants make to industries in the state.
Jake Harward, of Harward Farms in Springville, specifically addressed how he thought the government should reform the process for temporary workers to enter the country.
Harward Farms employs up to 40 temporary immigrant workers each summer, Harward said, a process he labeled as expensive and costly.
“I would call on our policy makers to help streamline this process, to help us with bringing these workers here that want to do these jobs,” Harward said.
Jorge Fierro, an immigrant and owner of Rico Brands, said “closing the doors and making immigrants the enemy” won’t solve any of the country’s problems.
He also urged people not to view immigrants as just a boost to the economy or certain industries. Immigration reform should happen, he said, because it follows the principles and values America was founded on.
“And now we’re losing (those principles), and now we’re letting that be taken away,” Fierro said. “We cannot let that happen.
“It does not matter whether it will affect you personally or not. It affects who we are, it affects how the world sees us out there.”