- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

DENVER — A newly formed group of Utah residents is fighting to curb illegal immigration by confronting local businesses that knowingly hire undocumented aliens.

Leaders of the Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration, based in St. George, say they have watched with growing alarm as illegal aliens pour into their southwestern Utah community with little reaction from state or federal authorities.

“We’ve watched the Phoenix and Los Angeles areas disintegrate, and we fear the same thing is going to happen here,” said Phyllis Sears, a retired math teacher who chairs the four-month-old council.

The council’s “enforcement plan” calls for members to go door to door to local employers and discourage them from hiring undocumented workers. They offer information on the costs of illegal immigration for schools, hospitals, the legal system and local government and provide a toll-free number to check employees’ Social Security numbers.

Businesses that comply with laws forbidding the hiring of illegal aliens will receive awards and have their names listed in a registry that encourages residents to patronize their services. Those that fail to comply would be reported to local law enforcement.

“Our local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency only has three employees,” said council member Larry Meyers, a lawyer and former city prosecutor. “They don’t have the time to go to businesses and verify compliance. They don’t have time to check up when someone says, ‘Hey, there’s an illegal alien living next door.’”

At the same time, the council plans to start a publicity campaign aimed at discouraging illegal aliens from settling in Washington County. Employers would be urged to post notices in Spanish saying they don’t hire undocumented workers.

“We want to speak to local groups and explain that the short-term benefit is that the employer takes home more profit in his pocket, but in the long run, we all pay higher taxes,” Mrs. Sears said.

A growing retirement destination, Washington County, with a population of about 100,000, has become a magnet for undocumented workers because it offers jobs in the construction, restaurant and hotel industries.

Illegal aliens also are drawn to Utah because of its welcoming environment. The state is one of four in the nation that offers both in-state tuition and driver’s licenses to undocumented workers.

The St. George group already has touched a nerve. Three weeks after the council’s first meeting on Sept. 30, local Hispanic advocates held a community forum with Tony Yapias, director of the state Office of Hispanic Affairs, to express their concerns about the group’s agenda.

With 2.3 million people, Utah has become home to about 65,000 illegal aliens as of February 2003, a fourfold increase since 1996, according to figures from the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The state’s foreign-born population jumped from 58,600 in 1990 to 158,660 in 2000, an increase of more than 170 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the fifth-highest rate in the nation.

Census records show that Mexican nationals accounted for more of the state’s foreign-born population in 2000 than aliens from the next 10 countries combined.

The past few years have seen the creation of at least four groups against illegal immigration, along with calls for a ballot measure along the lines of Arizona’s successful Proposition 200, which denies certain welfare benefits to illegal aliens.

The St. George plan won’t be in full gear for a few more months, but Mrs. Sears said she already has received calls from about 10 people interested in forming similar organizations in their communities.

“If a little county like Washington County can do this, this could be a model for the rest of the country,” she said.

• Staff writer Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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