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Leaders from six Western states speak as one: Fix nation's broken immigration system

SALT LAKE CITY — The nation's outdated and unworkable immigration policies place law enforcers in an "unfair, untenable position," says Salt Lake County's top cop.

"You know, we have more clarity as it relates to animal control ordinances than we do as it relates to immigration. Think about that," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.

"It's time that our federal leaders muster the strength to provide a singular approach to how we're going to deal with this problem and allow us as law enforcement to move in a single, unified direction to implement the goals of these individuals behind me," Winder said, referring to a group of Utah faith, business, and community leaders who gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol to urge Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform.

The news conference was one of six conducted simultaneously in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico urging Congress to address immigration reform during this legislative session.

"Today we ask the congressional delegations from all six states to forgo partisan politics and instead adopt a regional approach to finding consensus and solution. We ask the House and Senate members from all states represented here today to work together, underscoring our Western legacy of independence and community to address immigration reform," said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

Leaders who took part in the respective news briefings also signed a letter sent to their respective congressional delegations that implores senators and representatives "to enact legislation this year that fixes the broken immigration system."

"We need a workable immigration system that respects the dignity of every person, regardless of status, and ensures the safety of our communities. It is imperative that we address the millions of aspiring citizens in the United States by creating a road to lawful status and citizenship, while respecting those who have been awaiting naturalization," the letter said in part.

How long has the nation been waiting for Congress to fix the nation's broken immigration system?

Far too long, said former Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, whose third term in the Senate ended in January 1993.

"I would have never believed after working on immigration reform way back when I was in the Senate, and I've been gone for more than 20 years, and still it has not been accomplished. I don't even comprehend that. So we need to push much harder than we have in the past to get Congress to act, to do something about it and not be standing here another 20 years from now still talking about how it is necessary to do it," Garn said.

A number of business leaders who spoke at Utah's news conference said reform is needed to stimulate the economy and ensure industry has an educated, well-trained workforce.

The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Salt Lake City, said he does not have the gifts "to talk about what's going on with our economy. But I can speak about God's economy, which is pretty much summed up in the Hebrew word 'shalom,' which means being well, faring well and living in peace."

"Shalom looks like an earned pathway to citizenship. It looks like humane enforcement of immigration laws. It protects families against separation, and it promotes integration and protects migrant workers."

Jean Hill, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said the nation has "a moral obligation" to address immigration reform on behalf of thousands of people who have perished in the desert along the border while attempting to enter the United States to escape violence and poverty, as well as the 11 million people who live in the U.S. but are not unauthorized to be here.

"They are here. They are contributing to our communities. They're contributing to our culture, and we continue to exploit them for cheap labor. That is something we as a nation must stop to maintain our credibility as a moral nation and a country of justice," she said.

Klemz noted that many Americans have urged Congress to pass immigration reform, but the effort has stalled several times.

Still, Klemz holds out hope.

"Nelson Mandela once said, 'It always seems impossible until it is done,'" he said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Congress "could make progress on immigration reform tomorrow if both parties could agree to approach it on a step-by-step basis, ensuring incremental reforms are implemented properly and operated effectively."

Lee said an "overwhelming majority of Congress" agrees the nation needs to secure the border, improve enforcement and modernize the nation's visa system.

"Once these long overdue changes are well and truly in place, we can discuss the best way to handle those who are here illegally — and do so in a compassionate way, while respecting the rule of law," Lee said. "Sadly, a small group in Congress believe the only way to do anything is to do everything all at once, regardless of whether or not it is effective, compassionate or humane. That is the major impediment to accomplishing the reforms we all agree on."

Matthew Harakal, communication director for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Hatch supported the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate and is hopeful the House will also pass a bill "to produce legislation that will make all Americans proud."