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While Gov. Gary Herbert repeated a call for federal immigration reform Thursday, he said a trade mission that he led to Mexico this month may help provide the best way to halt illegal immigration by improving that country's economy.
"The best thing we could do, and the best thing that Mexico could do, for immigration reform would be to improve their economy," Herbert said during his monthly news conference on KUED-TV.
"We don't have a problem with Canada, the people to the north. They've got a good economy, and people have jobs and opportunity," he said. "It's only south of our border where we have problems with the disparity so great that people will take great risks to life and limb to come to this country."
So is Herbert advocating that Utah companies move some of their jobs to Mexico?
"It's a two-way street; it's not one versus the other," he said. If Utah and Mexico sell goods to each other and invest in each other, he said, it will create more jobs for everyone "and be the proverbial win-win."
Some 41 Utah companies accompanied the governor earlier this month on the trade mission to Mexico, and some signed contracts while there for more business.
He said he also learned about some Mexican investment in Utah, such as how Grupo Bimbo of Mexico City operates a big bakery in Utah that produces such things as Sara Lee products and Grandma Sycamore's bread.
That company's "banking interest now will be shifted to a local bank here in Utah," after the trade mission instead of banking outside the state, Herbert said. "So that will hire more people here in Utah from a company based in Mexico City, so it works both ways."
Herbert said Mexico is a natural market for Utah goods and companies.
"About 16 percent of our population here is Hispanic. Seventy-five percent of those consider Mexico their country of origin, so there are some natural ties. ... We have 5,000 business in Utah which are run by Hispanic owners," he said. "There are millions of people down there who are potential customers. They are also stabilizing their government. There is more transparency. There is less crime," creating more opportunity.
Herbert, meanwhile, renewed calls for Congress to pass workable immigration reform.
"We do need to have Washington step up and find some kind of immigration reform to deal with particularly the gate. … It's not just hopping the fence," he said.
"We need a wide gate for people who want to come here and contribute to our society, but would like to go home."
Payday loans • At the news conference, Herbert said he expects another type of reform soon may be debated in Utah imposing limits on interest rates charged by payday-loan companies because of that industry trying to halt reform with secretive payments in scandals that ousted former Attorney General John Swallow.
"The marketplace works exceedingly well," Herbert said, "but I expect in light of what's taken place in the attorney general's office … and the fact that we are at the high end of the usury [rates] in Utah, I think it will be a discussion and a debate."
A study earlier this month by the Pew Charitable Trusts said Utahns pay among the nation's highest interest rates for payday loans 474 percent on average mainly because it is one of seven states that impose no legal limits on them.
It said that competition among lenders doesn't tend to lower rates much without limits.
But Herbert said, "I am kind of a free-market guy and I believe the government makes more mistakes than they get right" when it tries to regulate markets.