27 June 2006
Immigration reform at stake in Utah vote
Utah Republicans go to the polls today to vote in a US House primary that could shape the future of immigration reform across America.
Current Republican incumbent Chris Cannon is facing a strong challenge from businessman John Jacob, like Cannon a conservative, and the battle lines have been drawn over the prickly subject of immigration.
Cannon voted on a House bill that would criminalize people who help the undocumented and make being in the country illegally a felony, but at the same time is a supporter of the Bush backed Senate proposals immigration creating a programme permitting illegal immigrants who had resided in the United States for five years or more to "earn" their citizenship after paying a fine and back taxes, learning English and holding a job for six years.
Included in the reforms is a guest worker programme that would enable hundreds of thousands of migrants to take hard to fill jobs in agriculture. Another is a plan to increase the number of the specialised worker visa (H-1B) holders from 65,000 a year to 115,000.
Jacob though is, like many conservative Republicans, a staunch opponent of the proposals on illegal immigrants, arguing that they amount to an amnesty.
Speaking to CNN, Tad Walch, a reporter with the Deseret Morning News in Provo, said the race has generated national interest.
"People do see this as a situation where if Cannon were to lose, it would be the final nail in the coffin - the death knell, if you would, of guest worker programs," Walch said.
Jacob has denied his policies are xenophobic and insisted there must be stricter border controls before the US can consider accepting guest workers.
"It's not anti-foreigners; we love legal immigrants," Jacob said. "It's strictly the word 'illegal' that we don't like."
"We need to follow the rule of law. That's what we're here for," he said.
The winner of today's vote will face Democrat Christian Burridge in November.