Immigration debate divisive in Park City
An outspoken advocate for undocumented people who live in Park City is warning Summit County residents that a vote for Congressman Rob Bishop in November could be a slap in the face to illegal immigrants.
With the U.S. Senate poised to debate legislation that stiffens criminal penalties for those who enter the United States illegally, protestors have taken to the streets to persuade lawmakers not to support legislation that could result in some of them becoming felons and being deported.
"You’ve got some very angry students going out with Mexican flags because you have legislation going through, that’s saying, their parents, who have been here working, are going to become felons," said Shelley Weiss, an advocate for Latinos living in Summit County. "[Their] moms and dads have been working two or three jobs granted they came here and they were illegal, but on the other hand, people didn’t think twice about hiring them."
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution last year that makes it a felony to enter America illegally. The legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, also stiffens penalties human traffickers and for those who assist immigrants while they are in the United States illegally.
A Republican, Bishop represents Summit County in Congress and voted for House Resolution 4437.
"[HR 4437] is really awful. It’s really draconian I don’t think that Rob Bishop is representing our community," Weiss said. "It’s no mystery that Park City is very dependant on immigrant labor, just look around."
Illegal immigrants are paid under the table or use forged documents to obtain jobs, she added.
Weiss pointed to the "anti-immigrant" Web site, http://www.numbersusa.org, where she says Bishop received the organization’s highest rating for, among other votes, supporting legislation that contemplates more fencing along the U.S./Mexican border.
Last year, the representative also voted to reduce the number of legal immigrants allowed in the United States and to ban illegal immigrants from receiving driver licenses in America, she added.
"The kinds of votes that we have had so far, have been, I think, pretty preliminary," Bishop countered during a telephone interview Monday. "I don’t know if anybody could be fairly equated as either pro- or anti-immigrant based on the kinds of votes that we have had so far."
But election-year heat on lawmakers could intensify this week as senators debate various pieces of legislation calling for immigration reform.
"I wonder if we can even get an immigration bill that works, because there is a wide disparity of beliefs. This is a great dilemma for any policymaker. Our country needs workers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "I’m not backing any proposal in full yet."
Some senators would overhaul worker programs to allow immigrants pay fines to begin to legitimize their presence in the United States.
Whether immigrants would be forced to leave the U.S. before work permits would be issued, however, remains a topic for debate.
"Generally, I would prefer that guest workers return home to their home country to apply for the program," Hatch said, adding that immigrants who have been in the U.S. more than five years may be allowed to stay.
Hatch and Bishop agree that securing U.S. borders should be the top priority of Congress for immigration reform.
"Immigration is not just about economics and jobs, there also is a security element," Bishop said. "If you can’t stop the flow of illegal immigrants, it doesn’t matter what we try to address after that point, it isn’t going to be helpful."
Though he still supports parts of HR 4437 that tighten border security, Bishop says senators should "fix" problems in the legislation he supported last December.
"The provision that made everybody automatically felons, was one that was very contentious. That was a provision that we definitely wanted to look at again," Bishop said.
Criminal penalties the legislation imposes on business owners who hire illegal immigrants should also be lessened, the congressman added.
"The efforts of making the business sector enforce the laws, where I think the government should be the one enforcing the laws, we wanted to revisit that one again," Bishop said. "I think it did go overboard in the penalty phase slightly."
These proposals fueled protests last week from hundreds of thousands of people across the country, Weiss said, adding, "what are we going to do, round up 12 million people and get rid of them."
"It’s deeply, deeply divided," she said. "A half a million people marched in Los Angeles."
Efforts for stricter border enforcement are misguided, Weiss added.
"The costs of it are just prohibitive," she said. "People just keep finding different ways to cross the border."
Meanwhile, Bishop contends that unenforceable visa programs are not the answer.
"Amnesty does not work," he said. "I think we need to take this in steps and the first step is to secure the borders."
Though HR 4437 could make her and members of other organizations that assist illegal immigrants criminals, Weiss said, "it’s being discussed and I think the Hispanic community is going to win regardless."
"Say Sensenbrenner’s bill goes through and they start doing the harsh penalties against businesses the business community would have to be faced with the stark reality that if they don’t go out there and advocate for their employees, they’re not going to have any employees," Weiss said. "Businesses would be forced to step up and do what they’re not doing."
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Daniel Lewis, an Old Town resident who unsuccessfully sought a spot on the Park City Council in 2019, said this week he will mount another campaign this year.