Fox Thanks Utah for Immigrant Policies

Mexican President Vicente Fox visited Utah this week as part of a three-day visit to the Western United States. In a speech before the state's legislature, Fox thanked lawmakers for how they've treated Mexican immigrants living in Utah. Jenny Brundin of member station KUER reports.

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The president of Mexico crossed the border this week, and started an American visit in Utah. That state has welcomed tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, but the state's mood is changing.

Jenny Brundin reports from member station KUER in Salt Lake City.

JENNY BRUNDIN reporting:

Utah is largely white, Mormon, and Republican, but there are some surprises. The majority of students in the Salt Lake City School District are now majorities. Children of illegal immigrants can pay in-state tuition at public colleges. And undocumented immigrants can drive here, legally. Mexican President Vicente Fox thanked state legislators, yesterday, for the way, he said, they've treated his countrymen here.

President VICENTE FOX (Mexico): It's a real example of what can be done with respect to dignity, with respect to humanity of all human beings, with respect to the relationship that we have.

BRUNDIN: Fox spent the past two days meeting with business, civic, and religious leaders, promoting trade ties with Utah. The state is somewhat of an enigma to outsiders, in that the volatile issue of immigration doesn't divide along party lines here.

Republican Senator Howard Stevenson, who also heads the Utah Taxpayers Association, was the sponsor of the in-state college tuition bill for children of illegal immigrants. He says his views aren't paradoxical; they reflect his core conservative values and his Mormon faith.

Senator HOWARD STEVENSON (Republican, Utah): We have an attitude in Utah that is common, that is a cosmopolitan attitude of inclusiveness of the rest of the world, rather than isolation.

BRUNDIN: Thousands of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve missions abroad, many in Latin America. More than 90 percent of the state's lawmakers are Mormon, and so is the entire congressional delegation, which for years has pushed legislation that benefits illegal immigrant.

But for undocumented workers, like Juan Argeta(ph), it wasn't Utah's laws that brought him here.

Mr. JUAN ARGETA (Undocumented Worker): (Through Translator) Here it's really beautiful, because it's quieter than in other places. And secondly, here there are more Mormons. There is more respect.

BRUNDIN: But things are changing. Several dozen Minuteman protestors demonstrated against illegal immigration outside the governor's mansion, Tuesday night, where President Fox was dining. Their voices have already been heard in the state legislature. Earlier this year, lawmakers stripped illegal immigrant of their driver's licenses, replacing them with driving privilege cards, instead, which can't be used as legal I.D. And other battles over Utah laws friendly to illegal immigrants are expected in the near future.

For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin in Salt Lake City.

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