This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah immigrants pay $1.2 billion taxes and have about $4 billion in spending power per year.
They account for 8.6 percent of the state population, running businesses that provide jobs for more than 31,000 people, and they have a reputation of entrepreneurship and special skills.
They also support the agriculture, construction and restaurant industries, by taking many jobs that others do not want.
Utah leaders gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to acknowledge immigrant contributions to the state's economy and demand that Congress fix a "broken" and outdated system, the same day that the Trump administration made public an executive order tightening immigration enforcement policies.
Utah politicians, business owners and community leaders said at the morning news conference part of the New American Economy's national Day of Action that the current immigration policy does not provide an efficient pathway to legal residency. New American Economy is an organization that brings together politicians and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans.
While everyone who spoke at the conference had "good reasons" to ask the government to work on reform, immigrant Jorge Fierro, owner of Rico Brands, said the best reason to focus on this issue is because "we're Americans; this is what America is based on."
He said money and power are becoming more important than the standards and principles on which the nation was built.
American citizens are forgetting that "we are all human beings," Fierro said, "and that we all have issues in the countries we have run away from or left."
State Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, said immigrants often come to the U.S. with skills and education, ready to contribute.
The immigrants that work in agriculture are "highly trained professionals" with unique skills, said Ron Gibson, an Ogden dairy farmer and president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors. "It's not just, well, find another human and put him in that position," Gibson said.
"I expect our leaders to control the border," he added. "We need to protect our country, but we have to have a real, feasible way for that to happen."
Other speakers also acknowledged the need to protect the border and vet immigrants, but said they hoped that President Donald Trump's promised wall on the nation's southern border would include as Trump put it "a big, beautiful door" to connect the nations.
Melva Sine, president and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, said she would like to see a revolving door, representing a good working relationship between the U.S. and Mexico.
A lot of immigrants are good people who came here legally, but who lack the experience or resources to renew documentation, Sine said.
Though people in the U.S. might see keeping out immigrants as a safety measure, Fierro said, it could also be a safety concern. It affects "how the world sees us," he said.
"We are sometimes in danger by closing the doors," Fierro said. "By making immigrants the enemy, it's not going to solve any problems."
Many politicians and community leaders at the event mentioned family ties to immigrants and how the issue has personally affected them.
Jake Harward, who owns a farm in Utah, says he employs about 40 workers seasonally to plant and harvest the crops he sells each summer, and even though he posts the jobs in four different states, he has only had a handful of applicants from the U.S. in the last 10 years.
Of those people, he has never hired a single one "because they're really not that interested after interviewing," Harward said.
He said he would like an easier way to get workers to Utah legally because "we need a steady workforce of people willing to do this work."
People working on Gibson's farm with green cards are "under extreme fear that they're going to be deported," he said, even though they have documentation. In a meeting this week with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, Gibson said he learned "the new direction that they've been given is, once you are charged with the crime, now they don't even let them through the whole judicial process."
While it is "probably not a reality," he said, what goes through an immigrant's mind is that they are at risk of losing their green card for something as small as a traffic violation. "Is that what we want? We have absolute pandemonium and fear in the workers throughout this country that are supporting our entire economy," Gibson said, "and that's not right."