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Utah leaders find immigration law could impact economy

Published: Thursday, Sept. 30 2010 12:34 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — More than a dozen Utah officials returned from a "fact finding" trip to Arizona this week with the understanding that a strict immigration law could possibly hurt Utah's economy.

The lieutenant governor, his chief of staff and 11 lawmakers traveled on their own dime to learn more about the implementation of Arizona's controversial immigration law.

Although the most controversial aspects of SB1070 have been put on hold by a federal judge, the law has drawn attention from Utah leaders because immigration will be a hot topic in the upcoming legislative session in January.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said the trip was informative, if nothing else. "We really feel like we got a 360-degree view of what they feel is the impact of 1070, positive and negative."

The Arizona law would require police and other state officials to determine immigration status if there's reasonable suspicion the person might be in the country illegally.

Others traveling with Bell were Reps. Brad Daw, R-Orem; Brad Last, R-Hurricane; Ryan Wilcox; R-Ogden; Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake; Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake; John Mathis, R-Vernal; and Sens. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville; Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City; Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; Karen Mayne, D-West Valley; and Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake.

The group spent two days meeting with representatives in business, politics, local law enforcement, as well as Border Patrol, the Latino community, and the legal counsel for the state.

Bell says gauging the bill's success was difficult because it depended on whom you talked to.

Some Arizona legislators claimed three-fourths of the state's populous regions support the measure. But the business community, namely the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, painted an ugly picture of 1070's economic fallout.

"They feel like they're seeing some PR fallout," Bell said. "That it's really tarnished the brand of Arizona. I don't know what of that is true."

"To hear the chamber, the hotel association and others clearly stating the loss for them was a strong message," Robles said. "I think that will resonate with anybody in terms of the economy and how we want to see the state of Utah in the future."

Both Bell and Robles agree that tourism and convention revenue are vital to the state's economy. They both say legislators need to take that into consideration when considering any immigration bill.

"We have a beautiful landscape," Robles said. "It's a big attraction and to have something or a piece of legislation have such a negative impact, of course it's concerning."

Robles does not believe a bill like Arizona's would work in Utah. She is drafting legislation with Chavez-Houck and 12 other legislators are creating their own bills as well.

"I'm happy to know that there's more legislators thinking about solutions," Robles said. "There's not only an Arizona-type solution."

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's bill resembles the Arizona law. According to his Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, an officer may detain a person to determine citizenship status if they are stopped for another illegal act.

Sandstrom, R-Orem, who unveiled his bill in mid-August, said while he is firm on keeping the enforcement elements of his bill, he wants to find a workable solution for Utah that will carry forward in the immigration debate.

Robles and Chavez-Houck claim Sandstrom's bill leaves too many unanswered questions and some legal problems. The pair also said the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act will be too expensive to enact.

e-mail: ngonzales@desnews.com

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