Republicans at Immigration Summit Criticize Inflammatory GOP Rhetoric

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff convened a one-day summit in Salt Lake City on October 26, bringing together political and religious leaders, members of the media and academics to discuss immigration issues facing the western United States.

Shurtleff has been a supporter of HB 116, an immigration reform law signed in March by Utah Governor Gary Herbert that differs from high-profile enforcement-only laws recently passed in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and other states. The Utah law provides a route for undocumented immigrants to obtain guest worker status on condition they pay a fine and pass a background check. Shurtleff has characterized HB 116 as a reasonable and humane way to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants living in the state, and the summit was attended by many who agreed with this position.

Paul Bridges, the mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, was among the summit attendees in Shurtleff’s camp. Speaking to the crowd of about 200, Bridges criticized Georgia’s immigration law, which includes a provision that all employers must verify the citizenship status of their workers. The Center for American Progress recently estimated Georgia could suffer an overall loss of $300 million to $1 billion for the 2011 growing season because undocumented farm laborers have left the state.

Many summit participants also deplored the hard-line immigration stances taken by candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Shurtleff, a Republican, said the inflammatory rhetoric the candidates have used when discussing immigration has already cost the party the Latino vote in the 2012 general election, the Tribune reported.

In a recent example of a GOP candidate using incendiary rhetoric regarding immigration, Herman Cain, the leader in some recent polls, said if he was president, he would build an electrified fence on the Mexican border that would kill anyone who touched it. Cain later said he meant this as a joke.