This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • Utah's members of Congress are pushing back against Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who leveled a scathing attack on the entire delegation for wimping out on fixing the nation's broken immigration system.
"Our federal delegation has watched the Legislature do the heavy lifting to get immigration reform off the ground, while their political will atrophies in the airless echo chamber of Washington, D.C.," Lockhart wrote in a commentary piece published Friday in Provo's Daily Herald. "We bleed in the trenches while they wallow in the temporary glory of meaningless blood-boiling rhetoric."
When the Legislature asks them for support on the immigration issue, Lockhart wrote, "They run for cover wherever they can find it or throw rocks at those trying to make a difference."
The speaker individually called out five members.
• Rep. Jim Matheson, she said, has only four sentences about immigration on his website.
• Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Mike Lee dismissed the state's just-passed guest-worker program out-of-hand without offering help to make it happen, Lockhart complained.
• Sen. Orrin Hatch said he can't help the state.
• And Rep. Rob Bishop is "curiously silent," the speaker charged.
The sharp words were not well received by the congressional members, who quickly tallied up their efforts to move the grid-lock on immigration reform in Washington.
"I thought it was disappointing and factually inaccurate," Chaffetz said, noting that he was in Mexico City last week working on an immigration issue and held a hearing with Bishop on the porous border earlier this year. "I thought [the op-ed] was an attempt to distract from the elements of the [guest-worker] bill. It was ill-informed and disappointing that she would choose that venue."
In addition to the guest-worker law, HB116, the Legislature passed an enforcement-only measure that would require police to check the legal residency of people arrested for felonies or class A misdemeanors. The enforcement law, HB497, is on hold pending a federal lawsuit. The guest-worker program does not take effect until July 1, 2013, or until the federal government grants a waiver for its implementation.
Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature have taken heat for HB116, including a resolution passed by delegates at last month's Republican state convention calling for its repeal. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported the Legislature's package of immigration laws, but the state's congressional delegation has been either critical or silent about the state efforts.
Bishop, who leads a House subcommittee over public lands, has focused mainly on beefing up border enforcement on public lands and has traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to gather information and draw attention to that cause.
"We would agree that more can/should be done to address this issue, but we must first begin by securing our border," Bishop's spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said. "Congressman Bishop has been one of the leading voices on the issue of border security and continues to work toward changing the policies that have long enabled criminal activity to occur along our border."
Sen. Mike Lee says he's trying to take steps toward reforming the nation's immigration troubles but that it can't happen in a day.
"I think that we have to start addressing immigration one bit at a time," Lee said.
But, the senator added, he read Lockhart's opinion piece and believes "it reflects a level of frustration that I certainly understand and even share by virtue of the fact that we've got massive problem with immigration in this country and progress has been really hard to find in this area."
Hatch's office did not respond directly to Lockhart's comments on the delegation and instead issued a statement on immigration in general.
"Immigration is an issue that deeply divides Utah and our nation," Hatch said in the statement. "Regaining control over our crime-riddled borders and fixing our broken immigration system is essential."
Hatch said that in two congressional sessions, he's introduced a "Utah-centric" plan that confronts issues like preventing identity theft and mass paroles of arrested immigrants and allowing enforcement of immigration laws on federal lands.
Matheson, who was traveling to Washington on Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.
Lockhart, contacted Wednesday, deferred comment, saying she wanted to speak directly to the individual congressional delegation members.
Online • Read the opinion piece
O Read the full text of House Speaker Becky Lockhart's opinion piece sharply criticizing Utah's federally elected officials for what she calls their refusal to grapple with the immigration issue: http://bit.ly/jtC6bW