By Matt Canham
The Salt Lake Tribune
WASHINGTON - Rep. Chris Cannon's Republican challengers are once again attacking his position on illegal immigration.
But, in a new twist, they also are attacking each other with claims of unrealistic proposals and outright flip-flopping.
David Leavitt and Jason Chaffetz say they don't want their congressional campaigns to focus solely on immigration policy, like the past two attempts to unseat Cannon.
But the hot-button issue dominates just about every meeting with the all-important delegates.
"If it is not the first question asked, it is the second question," said Leavitt, a former Juab County prosecutor who is the brother of Mike Leavitt, the Health and Human Services secretary and former Utah governor.
Chaffetz, who was chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and Leavitt know their best chance to unseat Cannon is at the Republican convention in May. If a candidate gets 60 percent of the delegate vote, he will be the nominee. If no one gets 60 percent, the top two will go to a primary.
Cannon represents one of the most conservative districts in the nation and has repeatedly been attacked by those on the right who disagree with his support of President Bush's immigration plan, which would create a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million people in this country illegally. Cannon has since downplayed his support for the Bush plan while talking up border security.
Chaffetz and Leavitt largely agree with Cannon on the need to protect the border. All three want employers to have better tools to check the immigration status of workers and they support hefty penalties for companies that knowingly employ undocumented people.
But all three candidates have big differences in their plans to deal with the 12 million undocumented people already in the country.
Chaffetz charges Leavitt with supporting amnesty and changing his policy to better fit the feelings of many Republican delegates. To back up his claims, Chaffetz points to Leavitt's campaign Web site.
The section titled "preserving the rule of law" once said: "We cannot create legality out of illegality, but we can move them to the front of the line."
And a sentence later, added: "They could be admitted into the country as temporary guest-workers until they are granted immigration status."
Leavitt's site no longer mentions the "front of the line" and it now clearly states that a guest-worker program would not place immigrants on a path to citizenship.
"He has suddenly changed his position," Chaffetz said. "We are going to be in a dust-up about this for some time."
Leavitt doesn't believe he changed his position, rather he said he removed "some ambiguities."
Though he does agree that he removed "some things that frankly didn't appear to be realistic."
He was referring to moving undocumented workers to "the front of the line" to get U.S. citizenship.
Leavitt now says the issue is a "red herring" because he has always supported a program requiring all undocumented workers to leave the country before applying for either citizenship or a guest-worker program. And under that scenario, it would be virtually impossible for the government to verify if a person had been in the country or not.
Leavitt counters by saying Chaffetz's more hard-line plan is unrealistic, ignoring economic concerns.
"When I'm crafting my stance on immigration, I'm looking at things that actually work," he said.
Chaffetz wants to put all undocumented immigrants on "a pathway to deportation." While some may stay on a temporary worker program, he wants all 12 million people in the country illegally sent home if they will not go willingly.
He said limiting jobs and greater enforcement of existing laws would urge people to go back to their country of origin. And streamlining the legal immigration process, would give them hope of coming back eventually.
But he also backs large federal detention centers to house immigrants, and major raids.
He expects such actions to create "disruptions" to the economy, but said it is the right thing to do.
Leavitt said such wide-scale deportations are not realistic.
On this point, Cannon agrees. The sitting congressman is quite concerned about the impact on the economy and businesses if immigrants were rounded up and shipped out.
He calls them "an essential part of our national work force" on his campaign Web site.
Cannon is focused on bringing them "out of the shadows," which he thinks will help make the country more safe.
Leavitt calls a plan to legalize those who are currently here "a farce," while Chaffetz calls it "amnesty."
Cannon rejects them both, particularly any claim that he supports amnesty.
"Unlike a candidate ambitious for the office I serve in, I have a long and clear voting record of working for solutions to our federal immigration problem," he said. "To use a buzzword that has had its original meaning shredded is willfully misleading."
Cannon also is being challenged by Joe Ferguson, who believes the nation has allowed undocumented workers to pour over the border as part of a plan to merge Canada, Mexico and the U.S. into one entity known as the North American Union.
What to do with the people who are here illegally
* Rep. Chris Cannon: Supports a guest-worker program that would not involve the people who are already here illegally; rather it would augment the current work force. For those who are here, he supports a "path to citizenship," which includes learning English, holding a job, paying back taxes and a fine. He also supports expanding legal migration.
* David Leavitt: All undocumented workers would have to return to the border. They would be eligible to get a temporary visa if they could prove full-time employment in the U.S., verify that they have lived here and have no criminal history. Or they could apply to be a citizen. It is one or the other. Those with temporary visas would have their wages garnished to pay for government services and would be issued smart visas that would help track their location.
* Jason Chaffetz: Those illegally in the country may be permitted to stay for a short time with a new worker visa, but would have to agree to leave or face serious criminal punishment. They would have no way to become a citizen. He supports the concept of "bonding," in which a portion of the immigrants income would be held until they return to their country of origin. He would streamline the legal immigration program, focusing on allowing people who have relatives in the U.S. to enter the country quickly.
* Joe Ferguson: Anyone here illegally should be deported, but he thinks this would take a decade or more and be conducted in waves, starting with those who are convicted of a crime, then move on to those who are not paying their way and finally deport farm and ranch workers who are here illegally. All immigrants here on work visas should be registered with the government.