Salt Lake County Council calls for immigration reform, despite clash between Democrats, Republicans

This article originally appeared in Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here.

SALT LAKE CITY — The hyper-politicized debate around immigration reform touched down on the local level in Utah on Tuesday.

Though the debate at times became heated and tense, ultimately both Democrats and Republicans on the Salt Lake County Council found compromise after debating a formal document to urge both federal action and compassion for immigrants experiencing family separation.

The council unanimously passed a resolution to urge “immediate” federal action to fix the nation’s “broken” immigration laws to prevent “the unnecessary separation of families.”

The resolution differs from one originally sponsored by County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani, a Democrat, which included stronger language to “reject the aggressive and insensitive forced separation of children from their parents at our borders and inside our state.”

Ghorbani — who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year before winning a seat on the council — clashed with Councilman Steve DeBry, a Republican, when he brought forward his own version of the resolution, one that had a high likelihood of overriding Ghorbani’s version given the Salt Lake County Council is controlled by a slight Republican majority.

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DeBry became heated when addressing a press release previously issued by Alliance for a Better Utah, which criticized DeBry’s “no” vote in March to reaffirm the Utah Compact, a document to support immigrants. At the time, DeBry said he did not support the document because it didn’t differentiate between “legal and illegal” immigrants.

“In law enforcement, I see the drugs, the carnage, the mules, the sex trafficking and everything else from illegal immigration or illegal aliens coming into our country. It has to stop,” DeBry said in March — a comment Lauren Simpson, policy director for Alliance for a Better Utah, called “vulgar, anti-immigrant rhetoric” that shared attitudes that “damage our communities by perpetuating false ideas about who immigrants are and why they have chosen to make Utah their home.”

DeBry fired back at Alliance for a Better Utah, accusing the group of taking his words “out of context.”

“That’s not what I’m about,” DeBry said. “I do not have a prejudiced bone in my body.”

Still, in his line of work, DeBry said Tuesday he’s “seen the heroin smugglers, sex traffickers” and “illegal people who have murdered people” and that’s why he’s a supporter of legal immigration.

Simpson doubled down on her criticism of DeBry on Tuesday.

“We were surprised to see Councilmember DeBry react so defensively after we called him out for his anti-immigrant rhetoric,” she said. “As a good government watchdog, it is our job to bring to light comments made by elected officials during official meetings. He made many alarming comments today in a similar vein to his previous comments.”

This article originally appeared in Deseret News. Read it in its entirety here.

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