SALT LAKE CITY â€” State Sen. Luz Robles may be seeking compromise with Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, her polar opposite on immigration issues, but she showed Monday that a wide gulf still separates them.
Robles, D-Salt Lake City, called a press conference to blast Sandstrom's initial enforcement bill, which he unveiled Friday. She said it is unconstitutional, expensive, would lead to racial profiling, would lead to more unlicensed drivers on the road and would make leery Latinos see police and all state officials as immigration enforcers.
"His bill violates so much of the Constitution that it is concerning, and we will be facing lawsuits," she said.
Robles said she is working with a broad-based coalition, including business and religious groups, that will unveil an alternative bill in about a month.
Still, she said she is optimistic that she and Sandstrom, R-Orem, can work out a compromise that can serve all sides.
"We're working toward finding, hopefully, a comprehensive solution and maybe have the both of us work together on the bill. We've been working with the governor as well," she said, adding that talks are ongoing despite wide differences.
Robles said that while Sandstrom may have felt it important to unveil the version of enforcement he seeks, "I'm optimistic that he realizes that the state of Utah can do better in terms of finding true solutions and not just Band-Aids."
Sandstrom's bill, like a controversial law in Arizona, would require local police to check the immigration status of people they detain for other violations if they have reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally.
Robles said that would lead to racial profiling of Hispanics with Spanish accents â€” unless they "ask everyone for their immigration status."
She said the bill would also mean "losing our driving privilege card" given now to illegal immigrants to help ensure they know the rules of the road and obtain insurance. That's because showing the card to police would be considered by Sandstrom's bill as proof that the people are here illegally.
"So why would I go and get a driving privilege card?" Robles asked.
She said the bill would be expensive, requiring extra work by law enforcement to check immigration status and require them to transport illegal immigrants to federal facilities out of state â€” or hold them in crowded local jails.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, appearing with Robles, said her constituents are asking if the bill may mean police would have a tougher time enforcing other laws because of the extra immigration work.
Dimitri Moumoulitis, executive director of the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council, said at the press conference that Sandstrom's bill "would never make it through the courts. However, we would still spend millions in legal fees just to defend a losing case."
Robles also said "one of the pieces that is also concerning is having everyone in state government basically becoming eyes" for federal immigration agencies by requiring the state to check the immigration status of anyone applying for state benefits. She said it also likely violates federal privacy laws.
"This bill is simply irresponsible," Robles said. "It will not deter illegal immigration. It just shifts costs to our state" for enforcement.
Still, she praised Sandstrom for introducing it early so people can look and comment on it. She praised him for telling Latino leaders what it will include and for being open to compromise.
She also criticized protesters who heckled Sandstrom last week when he unveiled his bill.
"It was not appropriate, not the way they were talking and screaming at him," Robles said, adding that both she and Sandstrom receive a lot of hate e-mail and calls.
"It's sad when we get that polarized," she said. "This is an emotional issue, but we need to be very objective."
Robles declined to say what her alternative bill may include â€” other than some hints that it will require some study of impact from illegal immigration and will somehow fine businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
"You will be surprised and happy when you see it," Robles said about the bill being written.
She predicted the Legislature will eventually pass an immigration "accountability" bill instead of an "enforcement" bill.