A bill proposing a one-year delay in last year's controversial immigration reform legislation, SB81, failed to gain committee approval Monday in spite of supporting testimony from a wide-ranging group of community leaders.
SB113, sponsored by Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, called for pushing the July 1 implementation date of SB81 to July 1, 2010. SB81 creates new requirements for businesses that contract with the state to screen employees for legal presence status and calls for an immigration enforcement role for state and local law enforcement agencies.
Jones cited the profound change in Utah's economic atmosphere, an expectation of new federal efforts aimed at immigration reform under the administration of President Barack Obama and a sizable budget allocation that could be used elsewhere in the state's current fiscal challenges as relevant reasons to delay SB81.
"The economy is down and we have a $1.7 million-plus fiscal note attached to this bill," Jones said. "This is not the time to waste valuable dollars … We could be using the money in a more positive way."
Those appearing before the Senate Education Standing Committee Monday included representatives of the United Way, the Utah Workers Compensation Fund, conservative think tank the Sutherland Institute, the head of an LDS social outreach group, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, the Utah Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyer Association and Catholic Bishop John C. Wester of the Salt Lake Diocese.
Wester also chairs the national advocacy group U.S. Catholic Bishops Committee for Migration and Refugee services, and he supported the notion that giving the Obama administration more time to enact reform was the best move for Utah right now.
"We believe firmly that SB113 is a good bill to delay SB81 to give the federal government time to come up with comprehensive immigration reform," Wester said.
When questioned by committee members about how much time that might require, Wester said he had spoken with members of Obama's transition team who told him they're "very interested in talking about immigration reform" and moving forward with forming a plan.
Several opponents of delaying SB81 also testified and urged the committee to defeat SB113. Ron Mortensen of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration said that no more time should be wasted while crimes associated with illegal immigration continue to plague the state.
"We cannot afford to have tens of thousands of our children victimized by identity theft," Mortensen said. "We cannot continue to be a magnet state for illegal immigration … and continue to have illegal aliens commit serious crimes."
Isabel Rojas, coordinator of the Utah Immigrant and Refuge Integration Coalition for Comunidades Unidas, expressed her frustration after SB113 fell on a 3-3 vote.
"It's pretty frustrating," Rojas said. "Ten people, influential people in the state talking about how this would have negative impacts for the work force and different communities … that they would rule out this bill seems not representative of community needs, business needs and the needs of religious organizations."
Rojas said she was particularly concerned about the prospect of cross-deputization of local law enforcement officers to perform immigration enforcement, and the chilling effect that could have on crime being reported within the immigrant community.
"What I'm hearing mostly is the fear factor," Rojas said. "People are going to hear that there is anti-immigrant legislation ready to pass … and if there's a crime in the neighborhood, how likely are they to report it?"