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Park City a hot spot for migrant labor

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Francis resident Oscar Palacios moved to the United States from his native Guatemala as a refugee seeking political asylum in 1991.

His first job in America was as a shoemaker for Vans in Southern California.

"I moved to Park City in 1995," said Palacios.

Today he stays busy as a handyman who repairs swanky homes in Park City and eastern Summit County.

Peppy Mexican music blared last week at a log cabin east of Oakley where Palacios called out instructions to his two-man crew in Spanish.

Today state lawmakers will meet in Summit County to discuss immigration reform and Palacios says he sympathizes with illegal immigrants in America who struggle to work. The Utah Legislature passed a comprehensive immigration law modeled after the nation’s toughest, which is scheduled to take effect July 2009.

Currently the legislative Immigration Interim Committee is discussing Senate Bill 81 and meets at Ecker Hill International Middle School tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Scheduled to speak at the meeting are Eli Cawley, of the Utah Minuteman Project, Kent Lundgren, of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers and Randy Terrill, a legislator from Oklahoma, which passed some of the nation’s strictest immigration measures.

"With the Chamber/Bureau here in Park City representing local businesses, labor issues are a significant part of the challenges that local businesses face," said Bill Malone, Park City Chamber/Bureau executive director. "We do have concerns (about SB 81) in terms of the fact that by approaching immigration issues on a state-by-state basis do you create an environment where there are not level playing fields in terms of securing labor in various states."

The new law may require public employers register to use a system that verifies the work status of new employees. The law also could require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of people who apply for state or local benefits.

But the measure targets illegal immigrants who pay for taxes, Social Security and Medicaid with their checks, Palacios said.

"They pay the same things as you and me," he said. "It’s hard for them because after they pay their Social Security, they’re told, ‘No way can you work over here.’ But everybody came to the United States from somewhere."

The parents of children born in America shouldn’t be deported for living here illegally, Palacios said.

"The kids want to stay over here and it’s a better situation right here, better schools," he said. "In our country we make less money and people who have kids cannot afford it."

His children will attend college in the U.S. even though he didn’t graduate from high school, Palacios said.

"We’re trying to save money for them because I want them to do it," said Palacios, who has a daughter and two young sons.

Unemployment in Park City hovers at three percent and migrants comprise about 25 percent of the population of the town, according to Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter.

The new law requires police officers and deputies take illegal immigrants off the street, Carpenter lamented.

SB 81 could also make it a class A misdemeanor to transport or shelter illegal immigrants in Utah.

"I have a lot of sympathy for business in general because they are between a rock and a hard place," said Cawley, of the Minutemen Project. "They are forbidden by law from looking closely into the documents that are filled out by workers and if they turn out to be fraudulent, they are hammered."

Resources are not available to the owners of most small businesses to carefully examine the work status of employees, Malone said.

"I’m not sure that’s the job of small businesses to be immigration enforcement people. I’m not sure many times, as small employers, that we’re well equipped to be in that situation," Malone said. "You do run the challenge of running into a double-edged sword in terms of making sure you’re doing everything that you should be doing as an employer, but on the flipside, acting in a manner that could have detrimental effects on me in terms of profiling someone whose documents seem to be in order."

English: A second language?

To work in the United States immigrants have to learn English, Palacios insists.

"If you don’t speak English you don’t understand," he said, adding that he "went to school and learned English in Park City."

Meanwhile, American citizens who speak English are being barred by employers who exploit illegal-immigrant labor, Cawley said.

"I don’t blame people for saying that they aren’t going to work for six bucks an hour or eight bucks an hour," Cawley said. "It would be a hostile environment because they would have to rub shoulders with illegal aliens who are not likely to speak English very well and are clannish to say the least."

The Immigration Interim Committee is scheduled to meet at Ecker Hill International Middle School tonight at 5:30 p.m. to take input from the public.


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