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.
Waddoups said if any Utah law clearly outlaws profiling of those who may be stopped and asked to present proof they are legally in the United States, then there may be real value in getting at "some of the drug trafficking and criminality" that some illegal immigrants may be involved in.
As in any controversial law, "the devil will be in the details," said Clark.
Both men said Utah has already taken valuable steps on immigration. "I think we are at least one-third of the way there" to the Arizona law, Clark said, with the passage of SB81 in 2008 and the immigration strike force created in 2009.
SB81, in part, requires legal presence screening for all new public employees, contractors who do work for state and municipal agencies, and those who receive some public benefits. It also creates a voluntary program for municipal law enforcement to cross-deputize officers to act as immigration enforcers.
"When the federal government won't act on this, I think it is disingenuous of the (Obama) administration and some in Congress to throw rocks at Arizona," Clark said. "And I think there is a real appetite to do something on immigration — in my Washington County and in the Legislature."
One legislator, however, said many aspects of the Arizona law were already reviewed — and rejected — by the Utah Legislature in the two years of work that went into SB81.
"Utah already went through this process, starting at a point very similar to this new Arizona legislation," said Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake.
Robles said the vetting of SB81, which included a one-year delay in implementation to allow a legislative immigration task force to thoroughly study the issue, resulted in tossing out many of the aspects that are included in the Arizona statute, some of which raised serious constitutional questions.
"Moving this direction is taking a giant step backwards," Robles said. "What we need to focus on, what's really going to make a difference, is pressuring the federal government to take care of their business and reform immigration legislation."
Robles said that, in addition to her concerns about implementation of the Arizona law infringing on the rights of U.S. citizens, neither state nor local government budgets could absorb the additional costs of increased law enforcement and incarceration levels.
"People … citizens and legislators, need to read this bill and see what it does," Robles said.
The Jones poll showed some disparity in support of Sandstrom's idea across political and religious divides. While Republicans weighed in at a rate of 76 percent in support of adopting Arizona's law, only 34 percent of Democrats thought it was a good idea. And, among those respondents who identified with a particular faith, Catholics, Protestants and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were roundly supportive, though at rates of 51 percent, 75 percent and 68 percent, respectively.
KSL-TV Ch. 5 will explore the new Arizona immigration law and its implications for Utah on "Sunday Edition With Bruce Lindsay" this Sunday at 9 a.m., and repeated at 4:30 p.m.
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