This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Enacting immigration reform may not seem promising after the election of Donald Trump, but a new coalition of Utah conservatives and businesses says it is the right time to push it because Republicans will control Congress and the White House.
The New American Economy Utah Coalition announced its formation Monday, seeking reform that secures the border, helps more high-skilled workers to immigrate, and avoids mass deportations of workers it says the U.S. economy needs.
Trump, however, campaigned promising widespread deportations and opposed visas for high-skilled workers because that might hurt high-paying U.S. jobs while calling for building a wall to secure the border.
State Rep.-elect Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, co-chairman of the new group and whose district is one of the more culturally diverse in the state, expects the Republican Congress and president-elect to find a workable compromise.
"There are obviously pieces of that which the Trump administration wants to see, like a more secure border. And there are things that a lot of Americans, including a lot of the business community … want to see, such as more skilled graduates [from abroad] being able to stay in this country," he said. "There's going to be some give and take in a package deal. You're not going to see 100 percent of the campaign rhetoric turned into law. I have some optimism that, with this new Congress, there will be a comprehensive immigration package that actually makes some sense."
Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairwoman Suzanne Mulet, co-chairwoman of the new coalition, said with Trump's business experience, he will see a solid business case for giving more visas to high-tech workers and for expansion of temporary work programs for farm workers.
As president-elect instead of a candidate, she said, "he will be more amenable."
The coalition one of a dozen formed in various states by the New American Economy group includes conservatives such as former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn; state Sens. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross; and Paul Mero, CEO of the Next Generation Freedom Fund.
Also joining are leaders from Utah restaurants; the Salt Lake Chamber; the Sandy Chamber of Commerce; and individual businesses that depend on immigrants.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, joined the conference call that announced the group's formation and supported it, saying Utah's high-tech sector, for example, is being hurt by inability to keep foreign students who graduate from universities here to work for them or to attract other high-tech workers from abroad.
"Failure to reform our high-skilled immigration system," he said, "is forcing American companies to outsource their innovation centers to countries like Canada or India."
Hatch said immigrants also are needed to fill lower-paying jobs in Utah's agriculture and construction industries.
"We need an easy-to-use guest-worker program that will incentivize employers to follow the law by hiring legal workers," he said, "while also providing workers with the flexibility and mobility to allow them to do their jobs more efficiently."
Melba Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said without immigrants, her industry would have trouble finding enough workers with Utah's current low 3.2 percent unemployment rate.
"There is a help-wanted sign on almost every corner," she said. "We obviously need additional workers."
Jason Mathis, executive vice president of The Salt Lake Chamber, said with Republicans in charge of Congress and the presidency, "there are no excuses for not moving forward aggressively to solve this problem that everyone acknowledges has been plaguing our communities for too long."
"This is the chance for Republicans to be the party that finally fixes the broken immigration system in a way that keeps America safe but also respects how important immigration and immigrants are to our country," Mulet said. "Immigrants want to be here, work hard and contribute to what makes America great."