SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - State business leaders say Utah and the country need a comprehensive immigration plan, and they've called out Utah's congressional delegation for saying the process is moving too fast in Washington, D.C.
The presidents of eight Utah chamber of commerce groups held a news conference Tuesday in Salt Lake City urging Congress to act quickly on the issue and include plans to expand access to visas and lure highly skilled workers.
The push from state's business community comes as a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is working to finish a sweeping immigration overhaul bill that they hope to unveil later this week.
The leaders of the Utah chambers of commerce say they want to see Utah's Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch work quickly to advance an immigration plan that includes a guest-worker program to allow technology, agricultural and hospitality companies to hire the skilled workers they need. The group calls for a plan that draws and keeps high-skilled workers such as engineers in the United States.
Also urging action is Utah Attorney General John Swallow, who has signed a letter with 34 other state attorneys general asking Congress to pass an immigration overhaul that secures the borders and improves the immigration system.
"We are being impacted with drug crime, identity-theft issues and gangs due to our porous borders, and it is threatening our safety, our economy and our way of life," Swallow said in a statement Tuesday. "A streamlined visa process and state input on the numbers of immigrant workers are also vital."
The yet-to-be revealed legislation is expected to include many of the provisions cited by Utah business leaders, including measures to secure the border, provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, and allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled foreign workers into the U.S. on new visa programs.
"These positions are not taking jobs away from others. ... These are jobs that need to be filled, that are going wanting," said Stan Parrish, president and CEO of the Sandy Chamber of Commerce.
The business leaders also called for a system to bring the estimated 11 million immigrants already here illegally into the economy legally to ensure they're all paying taxes.
"We cannot think that we can deport 11 million people without causing humanitarian disaster. This is not plausible," said Dave Hardman, who leads the Ogden Weber Chamber of Commerce.
The leaders said they were frustrated with a shortage of H-1B visas, which go to specially skilled foreigners and are capped annually. On Friday, the Homeland Security Department announced that after less than a week of accepting applications, it had received more requests than visas available for the year.
Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lane Beattie said the shortage of visas and skilled employees show the country's immigration system is "broken" and effecting the economy.
"We do not under any circumstance need to slow down immigration in the United States. We need to act," he said.
Beattie called out Hatch and Lee for urging their fellow senators working on immigration legislation not to rush the process.
"I am personally extremely disappointed in our two senators. For them to come out and acknowledge that they think we need more time is absolute ridiculous to me," Beattie said. "I don't know of an issue that has had more time, more discussion, more promises, more disappointment, than immigration."
Representatives for Hatch and Lee pushed back against Beattie's comments Tuesday.
Hatch does not want to postpone tackling immigration but thinks any plan should be available to the public and thoroughly vetted by a committee, said the senator's spokesman Matt Harakal.
"He believes that Utahns should have the ability to view any immigration proposal _ once it is actually written into a bill _ and have the ability to weigh in," Harakal said in a statement.
Harakal noted legislation that Hatch has introduced that seeks to allow high-skilled immigrant workers to remain in the country. He also said Hatch is working with other senators to address temporary foreign workers.
Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said Lee feels there hasn't been "ample discussion" on various aspects of a broad immigration bill. He said both senators want to read any legislation before it's brought to a vote, and neither is seeking a major delay.
"We haven't asked for several months or several years," Phillips said. "We're talking about a matter of weeks."