Immigration reform was spotlighted Monday by President Bush, just as Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. works on his own plan to deal with undocumented workers — and readies for a controversial visit this week by the Mexican ambassador to the U.S.
"This is clearly a federal issue. However, it has tremendous state impacts," said Mike Mower, the governor's deputy chief of staff, noting the president's guest-worker plan is just one of the proposals Congress will consider early next year.
"A lot of ideas will be floated," Mower said, including whatever Huntsman and his fellow Western governors agree to support. The president's plan "is something he and other governors will review."
President Bush made a new pitch for his guest-worker plan Monday in Tucson, Ariz., and called for tighter security along the nation's borders with Mexico. Bush has tried to sell his plan to Congress for more than a year, but it faces opposition, especially in border states.
The president wants to allow undocumented aliens to get three-year work visas that could be extended an additional three years. After the extension expires, they would have to return to their home countries for at least a year before seeking a new visa.
"This program would help meet the needs of a growing economy, and it would allow honest workers to provide for their families while respecting the law," Bush said. "This plan would also help us relieve pressure on the border by creating a legal channel for those who enter America to do an honest day's labor."
With the Senate deciding to set aside immigration proposals until early next year, Huntsman has time to put together his own proposal on immigration for the Western Governors' Association to consider at its next meeting in February.
There are no specifics yet, but Huntsman "feels as a governor that key areas need to be addressed, such as border security, a guest-worker policy and a clearer definition of the pathway toward citizenship," Mower said.
A problem the governors may have with the president's guest-worker plan is that it raises questions about what assurances there would be that participants would leave the United States when their visas expire.
Huntsman got involved in the immigration issue after a visit earlier this year to Mexico City. The governor was there to sell Mexican President Vicente Fox on establishing an alliance with Utah to promote trade as well as cultural and educational exchanges.
But Fox and other Mexican officials were more interested in talking about immigration. So Huntsman took on the controversial topic, persuading his peers several weeks ago to consider adopting a position on immigration for the first time. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat and the head of WGA, will co-sponsor the proposal.
Immigration is expected to be on the agenda when Huntsman meets with the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Carlos de Icaza, on Friday. The ambassador's visit, seen as a prelude to an appearance in Utah by Fox, is expected to generate anti-immigrant protests.
Alex Segura of the Utah Minuteman Project is one of about 20 people planning a demonstration at the Capitol Complex while Huntsman meets with the ambassador. Segura said the conversation should include what he sees as Mexico's responsibility for illegal immigration.
"They need to stop encouraging (illegal immigrants) to come to Utah and the United States," he said. "It's time for Mexico . . . to provide for their own citizens."
Segura did say Huntsman had shown good will by meeting with his group and agreeing to do so again in the future. He's for any plan that "helps secure our border," but added that he is wary of the president's guest-worker proposal.
"If there's going to be a guest-worker program, we first of all need to figure out who's here, and how many workers we need," Segura said. "We don't want a flood of workers."
Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino de Utah said the president and governor are on the right track by recognizing this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
"Everybody will benefit from good, comprehensive immigration reform," Yapias said. "It's long overdue."
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, among those who has advocated for President Bush's immigration reform proposals, said he's pleased with the president's approach.
"I have long argued that in order to fully control our borders and stop illegal immigration, we must reform our entire immigration policy," Cannon said. "The federal government can no longer ignore this crisis. Americans are demanding real, comprehensive solutions to these very real problems, not sound bites or demagoguery."
A recent poll taken for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV found that Utahns support Huntsman's effort on immigration reform and believe he can influence the national debate, but they also want him to make it tougher for workers to come here from Mexico.
The governor has said whatever he comes up with won't be easier — or harder — on Mexican workers even though 67 percent of the 400 Utahns surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates said it should be tougher. Instead, he said, it will be "more orderly."
President Bush pitches border, immigration plan
Bush's immigration-reform proposals include:
More resources and technology for border security.
Three-year work visas, and extensions of up to three years, for undocumented aliens.
Return of illegal immigrants to their hometowns rather than the U.S.-Mexico border.
Stiffer workplace enforcement requiring businesses to screen job applicants more closely.
Contributing: The Associated Press