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Opponents of Utah's guest-worker law gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to call for its repeal by the end of September and to urge passage of a tough employer-sanctions bill modeled after the Arizona E-Verify law recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brandon Beckham, who is one of the key leaders of the repeal HB116 movement, also took a sharp jab at those who drew up HB116.
"Those that drafted this bill are traitors to Utah, and they will be held accountable to voters in 2012," Beckham said to applause. "Their concern only seems to be the bottom line."
His comment drew immediate rebukes from Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo and Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, both of whom spoke at the event and support a repeal of the measure.
"I don't think they're traitors," Urquhart said during his public comments. "I think they're people looking for solutions."
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who was scheduled to speak as well but couldn't make it due to a meeting with Gov. Gary Herbert, called Beckham's comments "unfortunate."
"I would totally disagree with that. I think that's inappropriate, quite frankly," Sandstrom said. "They're not traitors. They have their ideas about what is in the best interests of the state of Utah."
Sandstrom said he is talking to a variety of lawmakers including Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo about crafting a solution to the fight over HB116, which was signed by Herbert in March and has been the subject of a protracted ideological fight within the Republican Party.
A resolution to repeal the law narrowly passed the Republican State Party Convention in June and has pitted much of the tea party against Republican-leaning establishment entities like the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Sutherland Institute. Those backing the repeal HB116 movement have also found themselves on the opposite side of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which supported the measure.
Sandstrom described the meeting with Herbert as being "a cordial discussion" covering HB116, his proposed E-Verify bill and addressing immigration during a special legislative session this fall.
Ally Isom, Herbert's spokeswoman, confirmed they met privately and said the governor is open to an employer-enforcement bill that doesn't overburden Utah businesses and reduces identity theft.
"The governor previously said any modifications to the current package of immigration bills will need to be addressed in a deliberative process during the general session," the statement said. "Something as complex as immigration cannot and should not be rushed."
But the repeal movement, according to Beckham, isn't dissuaded and is working toward getting HB116 off the books as soon as possible.
Beckham said his group will begin a series of classes and lectures entitled "Learn and Repeal." It will feature seminars free to the public explaining why HB116 needs to be repealed and will focus on the impacts of illegal immigration in Utah.
"We also reject Senator Bramble's desire to link the passing of an E-Verify bill while keeping an amended [HB]116 in place," he said.
He added that if lawmakers continued to push for keeping HB116, "they will create a bigger fight than they already have."
But House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, stuck by the law.
"The Utah Legislature has taken a bold step forward to deal with the issue of immigration reform," she said.
Lockhart bristled when asked to respond to Beckham's "traitors" comment.
"I'm sorry Mr. Beckham feels those who disagree with him are traitors. Does that mean he is building a gallows on the Capitol lawn? In my experience, when people can't win a debate on merits, they resort to name-calling," she said.
HB116 takes effect in July 2013. It requires federal permission for it to legally work, however.Under its provisions, it would allow undocumented workers in Utah who can prove they've been living and working in the state prior to May to pay a $2,500 fine for entering illegally or paying a $1,000 for overstaying a visa.
After passing background checks, undocumented workers and their families could be issued work visas through the Department of Public Safety. Currently, only the federal government is allowed to issue visas, and critics have called HB116 an unconstitutional violation of the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.