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Smoldering for a generation, immigration reform must finally be solved by Congress and if it is, Utah governments and businesses must be ready for a "breathtaking" human surge from the shadows.
"It will be like awakening from the dead like a zombie movie," said immigration activist Tony Yapias. "It's going to be huge."
That eventuality comprised the core of an immigration roundtable Wednesday, where Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Summit County Councilman David Ure hosted state lawmakers, business leaders, clergy and champions of immigrant communities in a discussion prompted by the White House.
Should comprehensive reform pass, the systemic shakeup would introduce a deeper reservoir of ideas, says Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, and a healthy jolt to the economy.
"What happens when you allow that human potential to come through?" she asked. "We will all be richer for it."
Perlich also called it "breathtaking" to consider Salt Lake City's potential as an international market, created by immigrants thriving without fear of deportation from across the West.
Indeed, consider the boon for west-side businesses, Yapias says.
And imagine the new volume at Salt Lake City International Airport if undocumented immigrants suddenly are permitted to travel.
"The theme this revolved around was recognizing human potential," Becker told reporters after the closed-door roundtable had ended. He said city departments and businesses must prepare now to accommodate the influx of people should some form of the Gang of Eight bill become law. But he also stressed the impact would benefit Utah's economy in every sense while strengthening Utah's schools and families: the "core of success."
"We had a mayor and his staff and his departments that looked ahead to see what is going to happen if and when this law happens," said Archie Archuleta, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza. "It was a great beginning."
Both Becker and Ure emphasized the need for Congress to pass comprehensive reform, not piecemeal immigration measures, as proposed by Sen. Mike Lee and House Republicans.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, considered a pivotal vote, has offered conditional support tied to sufficient border security and the government's ability to collect back taxes, among other provisions.
Ure, a former lawmaker who sponsored a bill to give undocumented Utah students in-state tuition in 2001, said he hopes Congress has the common sense to fund whatever immigration reform it passes. He called on Utah's delegation to get behind the comprehensive approach. "Be wise," Ure said, "and listen to our constituents."
Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, who represents Woods Cross and parts of Rose Park, took it further. Despite the anti-fed refrain at the Legislature, and the cries for states' rights, he says immigration is one area where lawmakers want the federal government to act.
"We need our delegation to be leaders," Weiler said, "and not just be obstructionist."
The roundtable falls on the same day the Salt Lake Dream Team launched a nightly vigil until the Senate votes in front of Hatch's downtown office.
"It shouldn't wait one minute longer," said Yolanda Francisco-Nez, Becker's diversity and human rights coordinator.
"When fear does not exist, imagine the freedom that does."