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Conservative Leaders Make A Case For Bipartisan Immigration Reform, Urging Utah Senators To Back It

A photo of Derek Miller at a speaking podium.
Ivana Martinez
Derek Miller speaks about the role immigrants have in the workforce.

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Utah Business leaders, Republican lawmakers and immigration advocates came together at the World Trade Center in Salt Lake City Wednesday to urge Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to pass bipartisan legislation on immigration reform.

The group emphasized the critical role immigrants have had in the workforce and economy, especially during the last year. Derek Miller, CEO of The Salt Lake Chamber, said Utah is slowly returning to its pre-pandemic unemployment rate, but businesses are still having difficulty finding workers.

“The fact is, our state needs people who want to come and contribute and build a better future for themselves and for our communities,” Miller said.

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said immigrants can help bolster the Utah workforce as the state comes out of the pandemic.

“As we try to address some of these struggles that we're seeing in our economy, the solution that I see is increased immigration,” Spendlove said. “Immigrants play a vital role in the Utah economy. They help fill in many of those essential roles where we need more people and where we have a high demand for jobs.”

Spendlove also pointed to the financial contributions immigrants make through taxes. According to data from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization focused on pro-immigration policy, immigrants contributed $1.8 billion in taxes and had $5.8 billion in spending power in Utah in 2019.

The group urged senators to pass bipartisan legislation like the DREAM Act of 2021, Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency Act, the SECURE Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

Multiple leaders said these bills would be beneficial for the economic recovery of the state.

Mayra Cedano, former DREAMer and executive director of Comunidades Unidas, a Latino nonprofit organization, said it’s a crucial time for reform in light of the contribution immigrants have made during the pandemic.

“When this country called our workers to step up and support their communities as frontline essential workers, undocumented immigrant workers were there,” Cedano said. “They quickly became the essential workers [who] picked the food that we eat, and built the neighborhoods in which we live … we can't be both deportable and essential.”

Enrique Sanchez works as a civilian employee at Park City Police Department. He is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program. Sanchez said the DREAM Act could help him fulfill his dream to become a full-time police officer.

He said this is an opportunity for both political parties to come together to create social mobility for immigrants.

“The biggest point that will bring everyone to the table is the economy,” Sanchez said. “And this is the first step for us to be able to get more human rights for immigrants.”

The U.S. Senate has referred the DREAM Act to the judiciary committee, which Lee is on.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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