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Women's group seeks stance on immigration

Work eligibility and other issues are discussed at forum

An immigration raid last December that netted nearly 1,300 arrests at several Swift & Co. sites is an example of the complexity of the illegal immigration issue, says attorney Roger Tsai.

What many people don't know, he says, is that a few years ago, "the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Swift for $2 million for excessively scrutinizing Hispanic workers."

Speaking Friday at a League of Women Voters of Utah immigration forum, Tsai said the required verification of work eligibility is pretty low-tech.

"If the document looks reasonably genuine, then they must accept it," he said.

On the other hand, employers who hire illegal immigrants face civil, or possibly criminal, penalties. In the Swift case, that employer used a federal Internet-based system, now called E-Verify, to check employees' identities and still had undocumented workers on its books.

The employment issue was among aspects of immigration reform discussed at the Fort Douglas Theater forum. It was part of the League's "Communitywide Immigration Symposia," which along with a film series served to educate the community and League members as they explore the issue, said Alice Steiner, the organization's co-president.

League members will attempt to reach consensus on at least some parts of the issue and then will send those results to the national League of Women Voters by Feb. 1, she said. Responses from all 50 states will be used in an attempt to form a national League position, which could be used to lobby Congress.

Steiner said the issue is an important one to address because of the number of people it impacts.

The Senate this year failed to pass an immigration overhaul bill, which would have put millions of undocumented immigrants on an eventual path to permanent residency. Last year, the House and Senate failed to reach consensus after each passed its own measure.

The panelists discussed the current immigration situation and potential solutions, such as revamping the nation's guest worker program and looking at how America's trade policies are impacting the countries where immigrants originate.

Ronald Mortensen, the co-founder of, pointed to a set of children who are victimized — those whose Social Security numbers are used by undocumented workers. He said the identity theft can leave youths with credit so ruined they can't get financial aid for college.

"If you make up a number you've got a 50-50 chance of getting a real person's Social Security number," he said.

Luz Robles, former director of the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs, raised the issue of mixed-status families, in which the children are U.S. citizens, but one or both parents are undocumented.

"These are the kids next door to your house," she said. "That's the reality."