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Immigrants Welcome

Salt Lake County Council reaches compromise on immigration resolution.


  • Enrique Limón/FILE

After a sometimes-contentious debate, the Salt Lake County Council struck a compromise Tuesday over Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani’s resolution to affirm the county’s commitment to welcoming immigrants and to pressure Utah’s congressional delegation to address federal immigration reform.

An animated discussion erupted soon after Councilman Steve DeBry offered a substitute resolution which modified Ghorbani’s. In the end, the council unanimously adopted DeBry’s version.

The dispute centered around DeBry’s revisions adding language that discouraged illegal immigration and only welcomed immigrants working in the U.S. legally.

Ghorbani argued that including language about the status of working immigrants would be “disingenuous.” Uncertainty surrounding federal laws like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), too, has placed many immigrants in legal limbo, she added.

The other major changes to her resolution include urging Congress to strengthen border security and prevent human trafficking. Unmodified portions call for increasing H2-B work visas, addressing uncertainty about the continuation of DACA and rejecting state and local policies that disenfranchise immigrants.

Ghorbani, a Democrat and daughter of an Iranian immigrant, told City Weekly she thought the revisions diluted the spirit of the resolution she crafted in partnership with Comunidades Unidas, an organization dedicated to supporting the Latinx community in Utah. “I’m not certain who council member DeBry worked with to draft his resolution changes, but I know it was not Comunidades Unidas,” she said.

Ghorbani also noted she was aware DeBry would propose major revisions, but did not know the details of the changes until the meeting.

Nine county constituents, including representatives from the Utah Chapter of the International Rescue Committee, the Salt Lake Rape Recovery Center and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, supported for Ghorbani’s resolution during the public comment portion of the meeting. Some constituents explicitly asked that the council not use terms like “illegal immigrant.”

DeBry, a Republican and the deputy chief of the Millcreek Precinct of the Unified Police Department, said he favors legal immigration and cited his experiences with the criminal activities of some undocumented immigrants.

“You can’t advocate for us to say, ‘Lets negate and ignore the Constitution or the laws of the land,’” DeBry told the council.

Council Chair Richard Snelgrove, also a Republican, endorsed of DeBry’s resolution, claiming that increased illegal immigration could harm constituents.

“Out of control illegal immigration leads to more competition for affordable housing … it leads to lower wages, more crowded classrooms, more congested highways,” Snelgrove said. “Among the rampant illegal immigrants are some, a few, criminal elements preying upon the immigrant community … I believe [DeBry’s] substitute resolution is the more compassionate.”

DeBry also strongly criticized a June 10 press release from the Alliance for a Better Utah in which Lauren Simpson, the organization’s policy director, supported Ghorbani’s resolution but condemned DeBry’s comments about undocumented immigrants at March 19 council meeting.

“I’ve never discriminated or done anything unethical,” DeBry said in response to Simpson’s claim that he used anti-immigrant rhetoric. “In fact, to the contrary, I’ve done more than most would.”

At the March meeting, the council did not reaffirm the Utah Compact, a five-point declaration created in 2010 meant to guide conversation among policy-makers about immigration in the state. The council decided to let each member individually decide if they would support the compact, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Despite clashes over the two proposals, Councilman Jim Bradley applauded the council’s ability to unify over the basic concept of welcoming immigrants and refugees.

“I’m wondering if there is some way that these two authors can find some common ground and strike a blow for decency in terms of a model for what ought to happen in all levels of government in this country,” Bradley said.

The first clause of the final resolution recognizes that the county is the first in the U.S. to be officially certified by Welcoming America, a national organization that encourages communities to embrace immigrants.

“Being out in the community talking to individuals who have tried to work through the legal process and are getting no response from the federal government, they're just on hold, waiting and hoping,” Ghorbani told City Weekly. “I believe that Utahns are looking for leadership on this issue.”