A new voter survey shows Utahns are solidly in favor of putting their own version of Arizona's controversial new immigration statute into law in the Beehive State.
And while at least two legal actions aiming to block the new law were announced in Arizona Thursday, and the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the statute, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem said he's confident the proposal will hold up under legal muster. Sandstrom announced this week he will run a bill in the 2011 Utah legislative session modeled on the Arizona law.
"I think comments made by critics of this bill, and our own attorney general, that this law is unconstitutional are flat out not correct," Sandstrom said. "I feel very positive about this proposal … and I would still move forward, regardless of what's going on in Arizona."
Sandstrom was not surprised by the poll results, and said of the hundreds of e-mails he's received since announcing his intent to copy the Arizona bill here in Utah, at least 80 percent are supportive of the move.
Sandstrom, a Utah County architect, said he is in close consultation with Republican Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, the sponsor of the new law, and is working on "tweaks" to ensure that his version is both legal, and aimed at effectively curbing illegal immigration in Utah.
The Deseret News/KSL-TV poll, conducted April 27-28 by Dan Jones & Associates, indicates 65 percent of 406 registered Utah voters were in favor of emulating Arizona's SB1070, signed into law last week by Gov. Jan Brewer. The poll has an error rate of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
The new statute includes mandating that local law enforcement officers demand documentation of legal status "whenever there is the reasonable suspicion that the person is unlawfully present." In addition to the pending legal challenges, the law has drawn fire from those who believe it impinges on the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, and creates an atmosphere that will lead to racial profiling.
Local community activist Tony Yapias is one of those critics and said the voter support in Utah may stem from a lack of information about what the law really does.
"I find it amazing that voters want to bring this Arizona law to Utah," Yapias said. "Not only is this clearly a federal jurisdictional matter, but the language of the law has huge constitutional issues."
Yapias said the reaction to the law points out how critical it is for the federal government to address comprehensive immigration reform. He also said the Utah Legislature would be making a critical mistake in adopting the statute, which he said will create racial profiling issues for all members of the immigrant community, regardless of their legal status.
Sandstrom's proposal is already getting a positive nod from legislative leaders who say such a law may be necessary in Utah because of failures at the federal level to address immigration issues.
Both Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said some kind of law similar to Arizona's will be seen with favor in the 2011 Legislature, which convenes in January.
Arizona's law "is pretty aggressive," said Waddoups. "I've already heard from a few senators who want to see a similar law proposed here."
Clark said his district borders Arizona, and many Washington County residents feel the same kind of frustrations as Utah's southern neighbors.
"Congress won't do anything" in real immigration reform, Clark said, "so you see states trying to."
With Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff saying the Arizona law could be "on its face unconstitutional," Waddoups said Utah lawmakers may not want to pursue exactly the same thing here.
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