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Spanish Fork • A resolution seeking to repeal a guest worker immigration bill scored a major victory Saturday when it narrowly won endorsement in Utah County the backyard of one of its key architects and cheerleaders.
The resolution passed 443-365 shortly after a series of speakers stood in front of more than 1,000 at the Utah County Republican Organizing Convention and faced a series of standing ovations and catcalls from both sides of the divisive issue.
Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who has battled HB116 since it passed the Utah House earlier this year, made the 10-minute case to support the repeal resolution followed by a tearful plea from his wife, an immigrant from Ukraine, to vote for it.
Even after his side won the narrow vote, he spoke with a sense of weariness.
"I feel sad it's such a contentious issue," Herrod said, sitting on the edge of the Maple Mountain High School stage, dangling his legs restlessly as supporters walked by and patted him on the back. "It's taken a toll on me and my family going up against the establishment."
Gov. Gary Herbert, who served 14 years on the Utah County Commission, said there may be more "tweaking" of the bill in the next legislative session.
"It's a work in progress," he said. "It's always been a work in progress."
Illegal immigration has torn at the seams of the Republican Party for years, but it's become a lightning rod in Utah since Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, began making a pitch to pass an enforcement-only bill and faced a not-so-subtle rebuke in November when faith-based groups including the LDS Church joined business leaders and politicians to support the Utah Compact.
The Compact focuses on five principles: a need for federal solutions, not using local law enforcement for immigration enforcement, economic equality, living in a free society and keeping families together.
That document eventually led to HB116, a guest worker bill carried by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.
Bramble has traveled to various states to talk about the so-called "Utah solution" and said the state made a conscious choice to not follow Arizona's path. He said Utah has different issues than border states and Utah didn't want to suffer the economic problems that befell Arizona after it passed SB1070 an enforcement-only bill into law.
Standing in the hallway outside the auditorium at Maple Mountain High School with House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, Bramble said he knew the vote would be close and was stung by the result.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "If HB116 is not a responsible option, I'd like to know what is."
The resolution had early success when it passed at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention a few weeks ago, but it had suffered defeat after defeat in counties ranging from Weber, Davis, Iron and Box Elder. It also lost in Tooele County on Thursday night.
Cherilyn Eagar, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration and supporter of repealing the guest worker bill, acknowledged they did a lot of informal polling and persuading prior to the vote and wasn't sure it had enough to pass.
It was when Arturo Morales-Llan made a passionate speech opposing the guest worker bill that Eagar felt fence-sitters swung to support the resolution.
"He hit it out of the park," she said.
Morales-Llan, a legal immigrant from Mexico, drew loud ovations when he spoke about the need for immigrants to follow legal channels, quoted President John F. Kennedy a Democrat and called the guest worker bill signed by Herbert misguided.
"I hear people say it's a Utah solution," Morales-Llan said. "I would say it's a Utah confusion."
The guest worker bill, which doesn't take effect until July 2013, would require undocumented immigrants in Utah to pay a $2,500 fine if they are here illegally or $1,000 if they overstayed a visa. The money collected from that would go into a state fund used to fight identity theft and provide restitution for victims of that crime.
It also would require the immigrants to go through background checks, establish taxpayer ID numbers and pay federal and state taxes until the federal government established a yet-to-be determined waiver for Utah to run the program.
Rep. Holly Richardson, R- Cedar Hills, made the case on stage in support of the bill and opposing the resolution. Flanked by Herbert, Bramble, Lockhart and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, she said the federal government's inaction on the matter had forced Utah's hand and the guest worker bill was simply the result of that.
"We cannot have open borders in a welfare state," Richardson said. "Utah cannot address the open border issue, but we can address the welfare state issue."
Prior to the vote, each side of the issue was limited to three speakers few of which got through their comments without crowd interruptions, including Robert Crawford, who drew a smattering of groans when he quoted Jesus Christ's plea in Matthew 25 saying, "When I was a stranger, you took me in."
Religion has punctuated many aspects of the debate with opponents of the guest worker bill being billed as "heretics" and supporters violating Mormon teachings on honoring the rule of law.
Dozens of opponents to the guest worker bill wore stickers saying "I could be a heretic."
Brandon Beckham, who has spearheaded the effort to repeal the guest worker bill, said, however, he believed the U.S. Constitution was "divinely inspired" and that HB116 was in direct conflict with the federal document.
After the vote, he said the battle to rid Utah of the guest worker law would continue. "We know this is going to be a long, hard fight."