Most Park City employers and employees would prefer to keep a low profile on issues related to immigration reform. Over the last decade, this bustling resort town has established a tenuous balance between enforcement and leniency while trying to meet its growing need for laborers. Overall, Park City-area employers, and lawmen and residents have tried to comply with federal laws and to offer services to those struggling to support families on minimum wages, regardless of their nationalities. Though an imperfect system, this progressive, compassionate approach has been, for the most part, a success. But this month, as the U.S. Senate debates a controversial House bill approved last December, the immigration debate has boiled over. The House bill (which was supported by Summit County’s representative, Rob Bishop) calls for substantial increases in the penalties for all illegal immigrants and those who hire or in any way aid or assist them. The proposed legislation also calls for construction of a 700-mile-long wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now up for debate in the Senate, HR4437 has sparked protests across the county, including plans for a demonstration in Salt Lake City on Monday. It is no longer possible for Park City residents to sidestep the issue. Local immigrants of varying legal status are, justifiably, upset. Some have built equity in homes and businesses here and could lose everything. Many have spent years and thousands of dollars trying to become citizens or at least to obtain work permits, but are still on waiting lists. Employers, too, are worried and confused. Many believe that they are in compliance with labor laws, but they are not sure. Others have overlooked the law and hired whoever was available. Caught in the middle are those in our community who have reached out to help local immigrants without regard for whether they are here legally or not. They have collected food, clothing and children’s toys. They have volunteered in the schools to help with non-English speaking students and they have helped to provide low cost healthcare. According to HR4437, they would be classified as felons. So, in lieu of quietly coming to peace with the issue of immigrant workers on our own, HR4437 is forcing us to face the issue head on. The results could be productive if new legislation creates an expedited system for issuing work permits or it could spell disaster for Park City’s economy if Congress insists on deporting a significant segment of the workforce . As approved by the House, the proposed immigration reform is unrealistic, unenforceable and inhumane. Park City cannot afford to ignore its potential destructive ramifications. Harsher penalties for illegal immigration without offering more attainable legal means to join the American workforce, would just force immigrants to go further underground, further from the law, and would put both Americans and immigrants in great jeopardy from those with criminal intent. By participating in the current protests and discussions about a more equitable immigration code we could end up with a far better system, one that does not reward employers who hire illegals because they don’t want to pay fair wages, and one that ensures all workers pay their fair share of taxes. The current immigration debate is uncomfortable but essential, and Parkites have the experience and wisdom that could help come up with a solution.
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