SALT LAKE CITY — A new website kicked off a campaign to convince GOP delegates to vote against a resolution urging the repeal of a controversial law creating a state guest worker program for illegal immigrants.

"I think if we do nothing, the delegates are going to make the wrong decision," said Utah County Republican Party secretary Jeremy Roberts, the designer and so far, sole financial backer of the website.

Roberts, head of a Salt Lake-based marketing company, said he wants to counter "wild accusations" made about HB116, which creates a state guest worker program for illegal immigrants set to take effect in 2013, or sooner if a federal waiver is granted.

"They're using scare tactics and they're feeding off emotion," Roberts said of the party members behind the resolution that will go before the 3,500 delegates expected to attend the GOP's June 18 state convention.

Backers of the repeal resolution have a long list of concerns about the guest worker program, suggesting, for example, that it will make the state a haven for criminals who don't have records in the United States, including gang members and terrorists.

In a recorded message to delegates on the website, the author of the resolution, Utah County delegate Keri Witte, warned HB116 "makes Utah a magnet for illegal immigrants and a sanctuary state."

Her resolution, already approved by GOP conventions in Utah and Salt Lake counties, calls the law unconstitutional and says it violates both state and national party platforms.

Roberts said he has invested some $10,000 of his own money to oppose the repeal and is lining up other financial support from individuals and groups that don't want to be named.

"The website is just a start," he said, promising to continue to attempt to sway delegates with phone calls, emails, door-to-door campaigning and a "huge presence" at the state convention.

He said he wasn't involved in the issue until he witnessed the contentious debate at the Utah County GOP Convention, particularly the booing of Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed HB116.

"I don't gain anything whether this resolution fails or passes," Roberts said. Besides believing the law is "a real-world solution that makes sense," he said as a Mormon, he is following his church in supporting HB116.

Roberts' website includes a link to several posts on the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the church's expression of appreciation for the action taken by lawmakers on immigration.

In a statement, LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the church "has not been involved in the creation of pro-HB116 publicity campaign materials" and has made its position clear on the issue of immigration.

"We believe the package of bills passed by the Utah Legislature, including House Bill 116, is a responsible approach to the complex question of immigration reform and reserve the right to make our position clear and set the record straight now and in the future if it is necessary," he said in the statement.

The Salt Lake Chamber also backed the passage of the law and has met with Roberts about his efforts, but is not providing any financial help, spokesman Marty Carpenter said.

"We have the same goal. We want HB116 to be supported. We're against any type of resolution to repeal," Carpenter said. He said the chamber would send its own message to delegates in the next few days.

But Carpenter also downplayed the significance of the convention vote on the resolution.

"How big are the stakes? People are going to set this up to be a winner-take-all situation. We don't see that," he said. "You'd rather win than lose, but this probably isn't the Super Bowl."

The state GOP is staying out of the debate.

"Delegates to the state convention will have several important duties, including electing state party leaders and debating some significant party issues," Utah Republican Party Chairwoman Enid Mickelsen said. "Each side of any election or debate will have the opportunity to present their case to the delegates, who will ultimately decide how to proceed."


Twitter: dnewspolitics