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Paul T. Mero: Passion of HB116 activists could backfire

By Paul T. Mero

Published: Tuesday, July 5 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

After an anticlimactic vote at the state Republican convention in favor of repealing HB116, the delusions continue for many activists who oppose the reasonable idea of responsible reform. Evidently the new goal for these disgruntled patriots is to repeal HB116 and (their beloved) HB497 during the 2012 legislative session, and replace both with a new and improved E-Verify bill.

The truth is that nothing has changed — not the facts, not the logic, not the reasonableness — regarding the high value of HB116. For all intents and purposes, HB497 has been repealed through court order, leaving the vocal minority with a disingenuous trade: HB116 for an E-Verify bill.

Newly energized by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding the Arizona E-Verify law, Utah's enforcement-only crowd, not surprisingly, wants it replicated here. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom thinks it's so crucial that he wants Gov. Gary Herbert to call a special session of the Legislature to pass it. But that won't happen. So this group's next step is to get it adopted during the Legislature next session.

Important to note from the Supreme Court's E-Verify decision is that the court simply reconfirmed the right of a state to regulate licensing of businesses — a subtle but key point that a few of us have made about the validity of HB116 and its issuance of work permits. What the court did not rule upon is HB116. In fact, while many courts have blocked enforcement-only statutes such as HB497, no court has yet to express any concerns about HB116.

Perhaps more importantly, HB116 will only get better. It passed its initial hurdle last session and now only faces refining through subsequent sessions prior to becoming law — an admirable position created by, and all to the credit of, its legislative supporters.

Of course, it's difficult (even unwise) to discount the efforts of an angry mob. They are putting most of their eggs in the basket of the caucus and convention system. But, even there, the plan may backfire. The more vocal and passionate these disgruntled patriots become, the more they run the risk of sounding increasingly unreasonable. Their words and deeds could have the effect of waking the silent majority and calling them into action in the name of saving the legacy and reputation of Utah.

Such miscalculations could mean that instead of getting its narrow-minded way about who represents Utah, the mob could get the very same boot it seeks to apply — all of which is a wonderful reminder that the fight over HB116 remains a bellwether for the future of Utah. Setting aside the minutiae of policy, the issue of how we address illegal immigrants living among us always has been more about us than them.

I, for one, welcome this struggle. I invite principled and reasonable people to wake up and then step up out of your comfort zones, get involved in your party caucus meetings, get elected as delegates and make your voices known — all in the name of decency, mutual respect and sound thinking for the future of this great state.

Paul T. Mero is president of the Sutherland Institute.

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