As Utah's immigration battle brews, Sen. Luz Robles maintains her voice
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh. That could be my little girl,'" said Robles. Her daughter, snuggled up next to her, had "the same bangs, the same little pony tail" as the girl in the drawing.
"Is this really what America is about: racial profiling?" Robles worried.
Two weeks later, she recruited Paul Mero, director of the Sutherland Institute, and together they got to work creating an alternative state solution.
"I went into panic mode," Robles said.
The resulting piece of legislation is "the most complex public policy" Mero has ever dealt with, he said. Immigration experts called it the "most innovative state solution" to be introduced thus far in the United States.
"We don't want to drive undocumented immigrants under ground," Mero said.
The bill has drawn criticism from the left and the right.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, called it "borderline dishonest because it's not possible." In order to implement her plan, Robles would have to get a waiver from the federal government. Lawyers have questioned whether such a waiver would be constitutional.
"An immigrant like her should know better than to give immigrants false hope," Yapias said. "She might get it passed, but she'll never get federal approval."
He said Robles never consulted the Hispanic community when constructing the bill.
"We would have liked to have had some say," he said.
Since the legislative session started, the threats have been rolling in — via Facebook, e-mail and phone.
Robles got a concealed gun permit on principle, but she's one of the few legislators who doesn't keep a pistol tucked inside her suit coat. Sometimes after an immigration debate or press conference, when the people, impassioned and angry, paw at her and growl threats through their teeth, she's grateful to be walking with her policy rival, Sandstrom.
"I feel safer," she said. "He packs heat."
She used to cry when people would send her hate mail. Sometimes she still does. But for the most part, the discussion of immigration policy has toughened Robles' skin.
"Luz is a warrior," Mero said. "She's not afraid to fight for what she believes in."
It's a month later, and Robles is sitting in the Senate Chamber, anxiously tuning in and out of the online broadcast of the House's discussion of Sandstrom's bill on Feb. 18. The debate, filled with heated cries against "amnesty," lasts two nail-biting hours. When Robles hears the vote — 58-15 in favor — she isn't surprised, but she feels a little sick.
"There's a lot of misconception about the bill," she says with a sad tone in her voice. "We are so limited in terms of what we can do for enforcement."
In her quest — the quest for an immigrant-friendly state solution — she remains undaunted. Robles still thinks her bill can pass.
"My bill is still gonna have a fair chance," she said. "I'm positive the legislators will consider all the options and vote for the best approach."
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