Utah Legislature takes on immigration

By Dennis Romboy and Lisa Riley Roche

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 23 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

Senator Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, speaks to a gathering about his proposed bill, SJR18.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers tackled illegal immigration legislation in several forums Wednesday, including on the House floor, in a Senate committee and in news conferences.

And backers of at least two proposals touted them with heavy doses of the Utah Compact and Gov. Gary Herbert's six guiding principles on immigration reform.

To recap the day's events, the House passed HB116, Rep. Bill Wright's proposed guest worker program. The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee advanced SB60, Sen. Luz Robles' plan for "accountability" cards.

Meantime, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, pitched his comprehensive plan incorporating several bills regarding enforcement, a guest worker program, employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers and in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.

And a group, including a former U.S. attorney for Utah, held a news conference saying all the time and effort is for naught because most of the proposals will prove unconstitutional.

Lawmakers from the outset of the 2011 session have maintained they will pass illegal immigration legislation because Utahns are demanding it. With 11 working days left, they have their work cut out for them.

"This is far from done," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. "We're still knee-deep in it."

Bramble has worked behind the scenes with lawmakers and other stakeholders to draft a comprehensive bill since the Legislature convened four weeks ago. His bill takes from Robles, Wright, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem and others.

Calling his plan the "Utah Compact" bill, Bramble talked about its concepts in a news conference, but did not reveal many details because it remains in draft form. It fits the governor's vision as well, he said.

Tenets in both the compact and Herbert's principles somewhat overlap. The compact, backed by business, civic and religious leaders, calls for a humane approach and opposes policies that unnecessarily separate families. Herbert favors greater accountability and not burdening taxpayers.

"We're looking for a Utah solution to deal with immigration here," Bramble said.

But Sandstrom and Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who are running their own complementary bills, have said they want no part of comprehensive legislation that includes a guest worker program. Such a plan, they say, would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Like Sandstrom's measure, Bramble's would require police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of a class A misdemeanor or felony. It does, however, remove the phrase "reasonable suspicion," ostensibly to eliminate racial profiling.

Robles' measure would require illegal immigrants of working age to register for an "accountability card" every two years. Applicants would undergo a criminal background check. Cardholders would also have to pass an English proficiency test within a year. All costs would be borne by the individual.

The bill prohibits businesses from hiring undocumented workers without valid permits.

The Utah Department of Public Safety would run the program and maintain a database of applicants, according to the bill.

Legislative fiscal analysts estimate it would cost the department $14.5 million to administer in the first two years. It would generate $29.2 million over that period in fees and taxes.

"This is basically, if not amnesty, legalizing the illegals," said Robert Wren of Utahns for Illegal Immigration Enforcement. "That's all we're doing."

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