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Things are heating up on the immigration front as rallies, debates and online videos are being launched to garner attention on the hot-button issue as the legislative session kicks off Monday and lawmakers consider a variety of immigration reform bills.
Hours before it hosts a debate with Rep. Stephen Sandstrom on his enforcement-only immigration bill, the Sutherland Institute launched a website this afternoon blasting his proposal for mirroring the law in Arizona.
The website, NotAZ.org, also pushes the bill it authored with Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, that seeks to create accountability cards for the undocumented already living in Utah. In large type next to a billboard, the words "Utah is not Arizona" are prominently featured.
The website seeks donations to "help us stop Arizona-style immigration reform from spreading" and Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero said the organization launched it Friday to avoid being lost in the crunch of immigration-related events slated for Monday.
Sutherland said it chose to focus on the Arizona-style law and then reference the Robles bill on the website because "people tend to give when they know there is a threat."
"There is a threat," he said. "Do we have a solution? You bet."
Sandstrom, who will be defending his enforcement bill at The Barn at Thanksgiving Point beginning at 7 p.m Friday, has said he has made enough changes to his bill that it is a misnomer to call it "Arizona-style" anymore. A notable change he made is removing provisions requiring local police to investigate the legal status of those accompanying a person suspected of committing a crime or traffic infraction.
He also took out the provision that Arizona has which requires local police to investigate under a "reasonable suspicion" standard those gathered outside the parking lots of home improvement stores. Sandstrom said that violates constitutional principles of freedom of assembly.
The Orem Republican's bill is at the fulcrum of immigration reform in the Legislature and it has generated national attention and will be the focal point for rallies at the Capitol on Monday.
One rally slated for 4:30 p.m. Monday is being promoted by a social justice group that opposes Sandstrom's bill. Activist Tony Yapias and the Brown Berets, another Latino rights group, are not supporting that effort. And a Los-Angeles-based group launched a YouTube video blasting Sandstrom and his bill and is soliciting money to get a billboard posted by the time the session starts Monday.
One group that had a rally scheduled for Monday cancelled its event.
The Utah Minutemen voted Thursday night to abandon the rally after Chairman Eli Cawley said in the email he had received "multiple threats" by telephone. He also said other members were concerned about their safety.
"Some UMP members who expressed themselves in the vote last night felt that discretion was the better part of valor," Cawley wrote in part the membership.