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    Illegal immigration still hot topic in Utah races,1249,650203666,00.html

    Deseret Morning News, Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Illegal immigration still hot topic in Utah races

    Think-tank report notes political impact of undocumented workers

    By Deborah Bulkeley
    Deseret Morning News

    Candidates who think illegal immigration isn't playing a role in their election bids may want to take a second look at the issue, according to the author of a recent report examining the undocumented population by congressional districts.

    Gladys Prieto, left, a health-care aide from Ecuador, takes oath of citizenship in Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 13.

    Tina Fineberg, Associated Press
    The report by the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigration think tank, shows a trend in which undocumented immigrants are moving into congressional districts across the country where the undocumented population has traditionally been nearly nonexistent.

    While the undocumented lack the right to vote, many live with someone a U.S.-citizen child or a legal immigrant who could eventually vote, said Rob Paral, the report's author.

    "To the extent that the debate is extremely harsh and negative it disaffects the citizen children of the undocumented, and in Utah those are your future voters," Paral said. "Immigration really is no longer something that really just affects a few areas. It really is an issue that all representatives need to look at in terms of their own district."

    The report, based on estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Census Bureau, also suggests politicians with small but growing undocumented populations were more likely to vote for the bill the House passed last December to bolster border security and crack down on those who hire undocumented workers. All three of Utah's congressmen voted for the measure.

    Republican Rep. Chris Cannon is running for re-election against Democrat Christian Burridge in the district with the state's most undocumented immigrants. An estimated 38,000 undocumented immigrants made up nearly 6 percent of the population in the 3rd District, and their numbers have grown by just over half since 2000.

    Democrat Jim Matheson, who faces a challenge from Republican state Rep. LaVar Christensen, saw the most growth in his district 64 percent, to 23,000 undocumented immigrants. Republican Rep. Rob Bishop is running for re-election against Democrat Steve Olsen in the 1st District, where the undocumented population of 29,000 has grown by only 4 percent since 2000.

    Some immigrants, like Blanca Rafael, will vote for the first time next Tuesday after witnessing thousands of undocumented immigrants take to the streets to protest the House's vote to crack down on the undocumented and those who help them.

    "That sparked everything," said Raphael, 32, who was moved by the plight of the undocumented and became a citizen just in time to register to vote in the Nov. 7 election.

    "We need to be sure we have people in office who can handle the issue appropriately, properly, and make sure the public, in general, are well informed," she said.

    However, nationwide energy from the protests that mobilized Rafael has apparently fallen short.

    Advocates had seen the potential to register 1 million new mostly Hispanic voters but as of last week had said they signed up fewer than 150,000 people, The Associated Press reported. (See story above.)

    In Utah, Hispanics typically make up only 3 percent to 4 percent of voters, according to Brigham Young University exit polls. And John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports reduced levels of immigration, said Hispanic voters don't all support the undocumented.

    "Many of them do make the distinction between legal and illegal immigration because of their own experience," he said, pointing to Arizona, where exit polls found 47 percent of Hispanic voters approve of Proposition 200, a measure to restrict the rights of the undocumented.

    However, Lionel Sosa, a Republican political strategist and CEO of the Web nonprofit Mexicans & Americans Thinking Together, told the AP: "It will be slow, but eventually everyone running for a political office will under- stand that this is a vote to be reckoned with."

    Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said immigration has receded as a top issue, observing that "Iraq has become such a powerful issue that it is controlling everything."

    However, he noted Cannon was forced into two primary challenges. Cannon voted along with the other Utah representatives on getting tough on immigration, but he's also publicly supported President Bush's call for a guest-worker program.

    "I think perception is reality, and people perceived that Cannon has been attacked in his last few elections by the immigration folks saying he is not hard-line enough," Jowers said. "Regardless of how he votes, people will remember more the billboards and radio ads."

    Cannon said he's been unfairly targeted by hard-liners. "I have a perfect voting record to enforce against illegal immigration," he said.

    But his opponent, Burridge, believes that he will benefit on Election Day from what he sees as a contradictory stand by Cannon.

    "He doesn't have a clear position," Burridge said. "Those who are naturalized and can vote, I think they'll vote for me. My system is understandable, it's clear and it's fair."

    Still, Cannon said that while immigration is a significant issue across America, "I'm not driven by those who are going to vote for me on the immigration issue."


    Contributing: The Associated Press



    2006 Deseret News Publishing Company
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