Friday, December 29, 2006

Raid sparks a petition

Immigration activists seek humane system

By Deborah Bulkeley
Deseret Morning News
In the wake of an immigration raid earlier this month at a Hyrum meat-packing plant, Latino community activists are working on statements and a petition drive to call for a more humane system to deal with undocumented immigrants.
The statements to be released next week will go to the governor's office and the public, along with a petition to be submitted to Congress in an effort to draw attention to the human aspects of illegal immigration and call for reform that includes some sort of guest worker program or amnesty.
Meanwhile activists against illegal immigration say there needs to be more such enforcement, and are working on their own petition drive — for a 2008 state ballot initiative to deny many state benefits to undocumented immigrants.
The raid at Swift & Co. plants in six states, including Utah, was the result of a lengthy investigation into identity theft. It netted 1,282 arrests, 145 of which were in Utah. The group will also be addressing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through statements and possibly demonstrations in a push for arrests only of those who are the target of criminal investigations. ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the federal agency enforces laws that are on the books. "Until those laws are changed, that is our sworn duty," she said.
But Frank Cordova, director of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, says it would have been more efficient to only arrest the 31 suspects who are now facing federal criminal charges.
"We can't sit on the fence and benefit from their labor and then call them illegal," Cordova said. "There are too many families."
The immigration debate died down earlier this year, after the House and Senate failed to come to agreement on reform. The stalemate came after Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano led a call by the Western Governors Association for comprehensive reform that would include enforcement and a guest worker program.
Huntsman said Thursday he believes the new session of Congress that convenes next week will take advantage of what he believes is a "window of opportunity" to enact the reforms sought by the governors. "That's very encouraging," Huntsman said.
As for the group's statement, the governor said he "will be happy to take a look," but the issues they're raising are federal, including enforcement.
The goal, Cordova said, will be to educate the community and to renew a call in the Democratic-led Congress for comprehensive immigration reform. Latino groups in other states are raising similar calls, he said.
"It's very complicated," Cordova said. "The reality is these folks are illegal. They really don't have any rights. ... We need to do something to alleviate all these problems."
But Alex Segura, head of the Utah Minuteman Project, said federal authorities are well within their rights to enforce the law.
"If these people possess any sort of false identification, they are violating the law," Segura said. "They are in violation of the law if they work in the United States without authorization."
Segura said the ballot initiative is still in the formative stages, but his group is looking at including language to deny state benefits, driving privileges, non-emergency hospital care, and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.