WASHINGTON — Saying he has listened to his constituents, Sen. Orrin Hatch unveiled a wide-ranging immigration reform bill aimed at what he sees as some of the key issues troubling Utah and other states.
His bill, Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America's Security Act, would require participation in key law enforcement programs, clamp down on identify theft, streamline the visa system, track the amount of welfare benefits being diverted to illegal immigrant households, curb serious abuses of immigration laws and help prevent Mexican cartels from using national parks and federal lands to grow marijuana.
"It hits all of the really big problems," Hatch, R-Utah, said on KSL Radio's Doug Wright Show Thursday.
"The purpose of it is to get people thinking about what we need to do first before we can do a comprehensive immigration bill," Hatch said. "And we're never going to get there if we don't enforce the laws that are already on the books."
Hatch's bill wasn't the only one introduced in the U.S. Senate as Congress adjourned Wednesday.
Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., rolled out the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010. Their bill also takes a broad approach to solving problems within the immigration system. It contains measures on border, interior and worksite enforcement, on legalization, and on future flows of immigration.
Hatch said in traveling the state and holding town hall meetings he has found Utahns frustrated over illegal immigration. He said his bill targets the problems that the nation's porous borders and broken immigration system are causing in Utah.
"This is a step in the right direction to secure our borders and strengthen our laws so we can address these matters," he said. If the bill passes, Hatch said, it would make it difficult for people to cross the country's southern border and "get away with the things they are getting away with."
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said the proposal is a letdown.
"I am disappointed with Sen. Hatch, not just with Sen. Hatch, but with Republicans in general because all they want to do is strengthen security," he said, adding the government has already spent billions to fortify the border. "That is just an old excuse to just keep scapegoating the real issue of immigration reform."
Yapias said the bill misses on a key point.
"It really doesn't address the issue of what we're going to do with the people who are here," he said.
Yapias said he respects Hatch and what he does "but on this one he should be brave. He should take courage addressing the issue."
Said Hatch, "This legislation won't cure all our woes, but it will put some teeth in our laws that will help us clamp down on some of the most serious problems that illegal immigrants are causing in Utah and other states."
The bill tackles identify theft by requiring the Internal Revenue Service to notify employers when an employee's Social Security number is found to be inaccurate. If the employer doesn't correct the problem within 60 days, the IRS would then have to notify the cardholder or, in cases involving minors, to the cardholder's parents and the appropriate credit and federal agencies if fraud is suspected.
Another provision would bar members of known criminal organizations and gangs from getting visas to come to the U.S.
"When I meet with constituents, one of their top concerns is how to fix our visa system," Hatch said.
Utah Minuteman Project chairman Eli Cawley found Hatch's plan hit and miss.
"After reading the provisions (of the bill), I view his attempt, however useful in parts, as a prelude to amnesty by another name, not as a real attempt to deal with the invasion in all its aspects," he said.
Cawley said there is no mention of the most important problem the country faces with illegal immigration: smuggling of both people for cheap labor and drugs through Mexican cartels. In that regard, he said he found the bill "completely and totally insufficient."
Hatch's bill also would:
Specify that illegal immigrants may only be paroled or granted deferred action on a case-by-case basis; mass paroles and deferrals would be prohibited.
Require eligible states, counties and cities to participate in the Secure Communities or 287(g) programs or forgo compensation for incarceration expenses.
Require the Health and Human Services secretary to submit an annual report to Congress outlining the total dollar amount of welfare benefits received by households of illegal immigrants in every state.
Place limits on states' ability to receive federal funds to provide Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program coverage to children and pregnant women who are not U.S. citizens.
Amend the criminal code to clarify that defendants who possess or use false or others' identity in the commission of a felony are punishable for aggravated identity fraud, whether or not they know the victim.
Require the IRS to notify Social Security holders within 60 days after a "no-match" letter is sent to the employer — if the employer fails to contact the IRS and correct the conflicting information.
Stiffen penalties for drug offenses such as cultivating marijuana on federal land and using booby traps, poison and other hazardous substances to cultivate or manufacture illegal drugs on federal land.