Joshua S. Kanter: HB116 repeal would be bad for Utah

By Joshua S. Kanter

Published: Friday, April 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Recently, the Salt Lake County GOP proposed repealing HB116, Utah's guest worker law. The Alliance for a Better UTAH believes that doing so would be bad for Utah.

There are two reasons to repeal HB116. First, it may be unconstitutional. Second, it is unlikely that Utah will obtain the necessary federal waivers necessary to implement the program.

Nevertheless, we must remember that HB116 was among several bills passed that, together, address the principles of the Utah Compact and provide a "Utah solution" to comprehensive, state-based immigration reform, an approach endorsed by the Legislature, the Governor, the Chamber of Commerce and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In response to the argument that HB116 is unconstitutional, we argue this: so are all of the bills passed that form a part of this comprehensive solution. If these laws are unconstitutional – because immigration is a federal matter under the Constitution – then all of these laws should fail, not just HB116.

The Utah Legislature, however, was determined to pass an immigration law and the argument that immigration is a federal matter was not carrying the debate. Utah was headed toward Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's Arizona copycat, enforcement-only bill. Thus, the addition of HB116 and its companion bills, unconstitutional or not, gave reason to see Utah as rejecting the Arizona solution. In response to this comprehensive approach, Utah is being seen instead as a place of innovation and other states and the federal government are carefully examining our comprehensive approach.

Were the Legislature to repeal HB116 alone, our "comprehensive" approach to immigration would degrade toward what would be harder to distinguish from the Arizona enforcement-only approach. That result would have dire consequences to our state. The costs of Arizona's constitutional challenge have been well documented and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld an injunction against the implementation of significant portions of Arizona's law.

It is similarly well documented that Arizona has been the subject of lost convention, tourism and film business well in excess of a quarter billion dollars. Not only would similar losses befall Utah if it were seen to be copying Arizona, but, having adopted a more comprehensive package of reforms, Utah has the opportunity to attract all of that lost Arizona business here to Utah.

Although their points of view did not prevail, it is worth recalling that Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Chief of Police Burbank were adamantly opposed to such an approach. Concerns were raised about racial profiling, 1960s style discrimination, our lack of commitment to enforce existing laws that, when enforced, have a chilling effect on illegal immigration (e.g., minimum wage laws), and our unwillingness to share the responsibility for immigration enforcement with businesses who were unwilling to be bound to use the eVerify system.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Utah's voters overwhelmingly approve of a guest worker program and endorse the principles of the Utah Compact.

We urge the Legislature to focus on the realities of the immigration debate, to follow the principles of the Utah Compact, and to understand the very real economic consequences that Arizona has faced by pursuing the hard-line, enforcement only approach. After all, even Arizona, a border-state, is now questioning the merit and cost of its actions.

If HB116 is repealed, all of the immigration bills should fail together. Otherwise, recognize that by adopting a comprehensive approach, constitutional or not, Utah avoided boycotts, ridicule and another visit to the late night TV comedy circuit.

Joshua S. Kanter, a practicing attorney, resides in Sandy and is founder of the Alliance for a Better UTAH.

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