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Minuteman Project will face immigrants in Park City

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Expect political fireworks in Summit County when the Utah Minuteman Project, a group opposed to illegal immigration, squares off against Latinos who are fed up with lawmakers not willing to address meaningful immigration reform.

An omnibus immigration law Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed in March requires police officers and deputies in Summit County to crack down on illegal immigrants by enforcing federal immigration laws.

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal and Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville each represents Summit County on the Hill and voted for the measure. Snyderville Basin Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City and Sen. Allen Christensen, a Republican who represents the East Side, voted against Senate Bill 81.

Leaders delayed enacting the law until July 1, 2009. The law is modeled after one in Oklahoma that is one of the nation’s toughest on immigration.

SB 81 could require some employers more closely verify whether people they hire are in the United States legally. The law could also require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of people who apply for state or local benefits.

The legislative Immigration Interim Committee meets Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Ecker Hill International Middle School to debate impacts of illegal immigration in the state.

Slated to speak at the meeting is Eli Cawley, chairman of the board of directors for the Utah Minuteman Project.

"I’ve met multiple people who can’t get jobs because they don’t speak Spanish," Cawley said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Teenagers aren’t being hired at McDonald’s because they don’t speak Spanish and they can’t communicate effectively with their teammates."

Low wages attract illegal immigrants to hospitality jobs in Park City, Cawley charged.

"They’ve integrated illegal-alien labor into the labor force pretty much across the board in the hospitality industry in Park City," he said. "By them hiring illegal-alien labor and looking the other way, they are in fact sanctioning human trafficking and smuggling across our southern borders."

Construction contractors in Utah exploit illegal immigrants by paying them less, Cawley said.

"If it were demonstrated in a court of law that they had looked the other way and they had to go to jail there would be people seriously thinking about screening their employees much more carefully," Cawley said.

But SB 81 doesn’t greatly penalize business owners for hiring illegal workers, he lamented.

"There is nothing in there to punish them. They will not have a threat of their license being taken away and they will pay no fines," Cawley explained.

But Park City Community Outreach Center spokeswoman Shelley Weiss said the Minuteman Project has no standing to speak at the meeting scheduled in Summit County.

"The problem with the Minuteman thing is their theatrics It’s stuff that they do to try and elicit a knee-jerk reaction, kind of like shooting a puppy in the head," Weiss said.

Business owners must be careful not to discriminate against people by probing their employees too closely, Weiss said.

"Any employer has to have a reasonable belief that the employee is who they say they are and they’re not document experts," said Weiss, who works closely with Mexican immigrants in Park City. "I see Social Security cards all the time and I can’t tell if they’re real or not."

Weiss called the legislative committee meeting "a dog and pony show."

"Why would they come to a community to discuss this legislation and have nobody from the community participate in it," Weiss said.

But anyone can speak at the meeting during time reserved for public comment, explained Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, a member of the legislative committee.

"We’re doing this task force so we can understand and hear from our local communities about how they feel about Senate Bill 81," Romero said in a telephone interview. "Because the labor force is there and we have to figure out who is there and what they’re doing."


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