Angry Minutemen protest Utah's guest-worker plan
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About 20 protesters gathered outside of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce building Friday to protest the organization's plan for a state-sponsored guest-worker program.

In this year's legislative session, the chamber successfully pushed for SCR1 to pass, which asked the federal government for waivers for employers to collect the equivalent of federal withholding tax from the paychecks of guest workers to fund the program and provide health insurance for the workers.

Empowering undocumented workers sends a bad message about the value of citizenship, said Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minuteman Project, which organized the event. "We're giving illegals all of our rights without any of the responsibilities," he said.

Establishing such a program would require several federal waivers, and likely would take years to create. The Salt Lake chamber is attempting to get chambers in other states to propose similar programs and then take it to the federal government.

Such programs would put costs back on taxpayers, said Alex Siguera, founder of the Utah Minuteman Project.

"Now is not the time for that, in this economy," he said. "I hope they'll take another look and know that we don't agree with amnesty."

The chamber said it would have no comment on the demonstration.

Latino community activist Tony Yapias said he recognizes the Minutemen's right to protest and calls a state-sponsored guest worker program "the safest thing to do."

"Every time this comes about, people say 'This is not the right time,' well, when is the right time?" Yapias said. "We need to show that we have the political will to do this."

Others gathered to protest Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank's decision not to enforce an optional provision in SB81, the state's new immigration law scheduled to take effect July 1, that would allow local officers to act like federal immigration agents.

"I'm angry. Illegals are working, foreigners on work visas are working and there's no one to make sure that Americans get jobs first," said Deborah White, who traveled from Payson to protest.

Destiny Payne, a Salt Lake City resident, agrees.

"I'm sick and tired of illegal immigrants taking our jobs," she said. "We have this horrible economy all because of the illegals."

smcfarland@sltrib.com