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Angry Utahns by the hundreds are calling, e-mailing and faxing Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, demanding he oppose an immigration bill that would provide legal status to an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.
Those voters generally receive a coy answer.
"My public position is that I'm reviewing the amendments," Bennett said Tuesday.
It's a ploy meant to defuse emotion. But here's what Bennett's staffers are not saying: he plans to vote for it.
And he points to St. George as part of the reason why.
St. George is the fastest-growing metro area in the nation, mostly because people from California and Las Vegas continue to relocate there. In many ways this Washington County economic powerhouse is fueled by workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
"One of the realities is our economy is dependent on labor that is coming from illegal immigrants and that is true of St. George," Bennett said.
Washington County Commissioner Jim Eardley has visited with Bennett and Sen. Orrin Hatch urging them to help create some kind of guest worker program.
He estimates 12,000 undocumented immigrants work in the area, many of them constructing new homes.
If they left, there would be no one to replace them.
The county has 2 percent unemployment, Eardley said, which already places a strain on businesses looking for workers.
Bennett uses St. George as an example of a nationwide issue. He says if the government forcibly removed undocumented workers "you would throw the United States into a serious economic recession," he said.
Eardley backs the senator on this one, but he also agrees with many of the Utahns who are asking Bennett to vote against the immigration bill.
He says the proposal makes it too easy for an undocumented worker to stay in the country indefinitely.
Bennett said he would have written the bill differently but he is enamored with the way the proposal came together.
Senate leaders drafted an influential team to create a bipartisan plan that has also earned the approval of President Bush.
It starts with beefed up border security and enforcement of immigration employment laws. Then it morphs into a guest worker program and special visas for those who arrived in the country before Jan. 1, 2007. To get the visas, the undocumented immigrants would have to pay a $5,000 fine.
Bennett calls the tenuous agreement "a sight to behold."
He also says: "If you are a betting man, you bet this thing falls apart."
Senators expect to pick it up again when they return from their Memorial Day break next week. The proposal is under attack from both sides, with conservatives claiming the bill is "amnesty," while unions say it creates a permanent cheap labor force that will drive down wages.
Bennett understands his support for the measure will have political repercussions, especially in the Republican Party, which remains fractured on this issue.
"I can almost guarantee myself a primary opponent if I run again in 2010," Bennett said. "But it is the right thing to do."
In the past week, Bennett staffers have answered about 1,000 phone calls, and 95 percent of them denounce the fragile bipartisan immigration bill.
Hatch hasn't said how he will vote, but his office has been hit by a similar deluge of voters arguing against the immigration compromise.
"The intensity of the callers is tremendous," said spokeswoman Heather Barney. "Many are very very angry."
The only issues that has resulted in similar responses was the debate over same sex marriage and President Clinton's impeachment, she said. firstname.lastname@example.org