I attended Sutherland's forum on SB 81. There were four panelists: Representative Chris Herrod, Senator Luz Robles, Representative Stephen Sandstrom, and Mrs. Dee Rowland of the Catholic Diocese. Each was given time for a presentation/speech, and then it was opened to questions from the attendees. The crowd had a bit of an us/them feel to it, with a strong Latino contingent as well as some outspoken Minutemen, one of whom was kicked out towards the end for being a bit too outspoken.
Senator Herrod spoke first, and, with what was a recurring theme from the pro-SB81 side, began by defending himself against attacks of being racist. His wife is a legal immigrant from the Ukraine, and his business partner is a legal immigrant from Africa. His support for bills like SB81 comes from a strong belief that illegal immigration makes it much harder for legal immigrants to come to America. He thinks it is unfair and immoral that his business partner's wife and family are still waiting in a very dangerous country in Africa because he has chosen to follow the law with their immigration process while millions of illegal immigrants stream into the country. In effect, his argument was that allowing illegal immigration discriminates against legal immigrants.
If the first part of Sen. Herrod's speech dealt with the moral theory behind his stance, the second part dealt with cold hard facts. He had an interesting slide presentation which included graphs showing the country of origin for immigrants in 1970 vs. 2000. In 1970 the mix was very even, with no country supplying significantly more than another. However, by 2000 that had changed substantially, with Mexico now far and away the biggest source of immigration. He said that this scenario lessens the "melting pot" of the US.
Also discussed was the fact that illegal immigration harms the working poor by taking away jobs and depressing wage levels. The representative said that if it were high earners immigrating illegally and competing for jobs with doctors and lawyers, there would be far more people in favor of measures like SB81. Instead, the illegal immigrants are generally poor, and statistically have more children than the average population. This demographic means illegal immigrants are a drain on state services like education.
Next up was Senator Robles. She began by saying this country was founded on immigration. She went on to acknowledge that illegal immigration is a problem, but that it can only be addressed at the federal level. She did, however, point out three main issues in need of fixing:
1) The borders need to be secured
2) There is a demand for labor that these immigrants provide.
3) What to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here?
Senator Robles did not expand much on the first point other than to state it was a security issue. The second point was quite interesting because she used it to refute what Representative Herrod had said about illegal immigrant doctors. Basically, the working poor labor is what is demanded, so that is what we are getting. The third point was expounded upon mainly by noting that many of these illegal immigrants are "mixed status" families, which means that while the parents may not be citizens, their children are. Sen. Robles is vehemently opposed to forcing US citizens to leave the country simply because their parents are not citizens.
The third speaker was Representative Stephen Sandstrom. He too found it necessary to defend himself against attacks of being a racist. Because of time constraints he was forced to cut his speech short, but the gist of my notes is that he dwelt on how SB81 simply forces the state of Utah to follow federal law currently on the books. By not following these laws, it creates a disadvantage to companies that do not hire illegal immigrants. For this reason he is in favor of the provision in SB81 which calls for companies with public contracts to use an e-verify system so as not to hire illegal immigrants.
Mrs. Dee Rowland was the final speaker. I unfortunately was quite disappointed in her speech. When not labeling her opponents racists, she was calling them Nazis. And all this after prefacing her remarks with a call for civility and finding common ground. But at least she was quite nice in how she presented it.
Now came the public question portion. There wasn't an awful lot of time at this point, which frustrated many who wanted to ask questions, myself included. I felt that not enough time was spent on the specific provisions of SB81 and what the expected results of the bill would be, as well as why each piece was opposed or supported.
The question I was unable to ask was, one of the provisions of the bill is that local law enforcement would now be investigating the immigration status of the people they came into contact with. What is unclear to me is if they will be investigating everyone, or just people already arrested for other crimes. This seems important to me because for one thing law enforcement already does that with other crimes, and also because it would seem that law abiding illegal immigrants have nothing to fear. It's not as though police are barging into homes looking to deport people; rather, if a crime is committed by an illegal immigrant, law enforcement should be aware of it. Perhaps I misunderstand the provision, and for this reason I had hoped to ask the question.
The discussion also brought to my mind a scenario which I think illustrates the complexity of illegal immigration. At one time I worked in an apartment maintenance crew in Salt Lake City. There were a number of Latinos in the crew; some here legally, and some not. Because I spoke Spanish, we were able to communicate and became good friends. The Latinos in the crew were very hardworking, reliable, and honest. In short, they were perfect employees. On the other hand, I watched as the non-Latinos on the crew came and went as they simply stopped showing up for work or were caught stealing. They were unreliable, dishonest, and difficult to manage. Almost to a man they were the complete opposite of their Latino counterparts.
For this reason I think a crackdown on illegal immigration would be harmful to Utah business and society. Losing men and workers of my friends' caliber would be a great loss.
However, our employer liked them not only because of their innate loyalty, but because of a forced loyalty. They did not speak English and so had few employment options other than what their family or friend connections could supply. Instead of paying them as employees, they were paid as independent contractors. A practice which freed the employer from paying payroll taxes and instead transferred that burden to the worker. A burden which, since the illegal immigrants had faulty paperwork, they didn't ever have to pay because they're not filing taxes with someone else's social security number. Of course, eventually that someone else will be tracked down by the state and federal tax collectors and accused of not declaring all that additional income. Also worthy of noting is that these men were paid $9 an hour and happy to get it. This is not anywhere near a real living wage, and I often wondered if the depressed wage level these workers created contributed to the quality (or lack thereof) of the non-Latino workers.
It is a very complicated issue. I applaud the Sutherland Institute for providing a venue for this discussion, and the panelists for spending time to discuss and defend their views.