SALT LAKE CITY — Only time will tell if Utah has really found a solution to illegal immigration.
State lawmakers said from the outset of the 2011 legislative session that they wanted a "Utah solution," meaning they wanted to distance the state from the fallout in Arizona.
That much seems to be accomplished. So far pundits nationwide have viewed the series of bills passed in the Utah Legislature as a less punitive, more even-handed approach.
But how effective some of those measures will be, if they're implemented at all, remains a question mark, as does whether Utah will move the illegal immigration debate along at the national level.
"What was ultimately crafted has shown to be balanced, pragmatic, innovative and in so many ways a uniquely Utah solution," said Marty Carpenter, Salt Lake Chamber communications and marketing director. The chamber worked heavily behind the scenes on the legislation.
"If you had to boil it down to a sentence it would be 'Utah is not Arizona,' " he said.
The package, which taken as a whole garnered bipartisan support, includes provisions for tighter enforcement (HB497), a guest worker plan (HB116), a migrant worker partnership with Mexico (HB466), an immigrant sponsorship program (HB469), and employee verification and employer sanctions (HB116).
Legislators also tightened the requirements for driving privilege cards that many undocumented immigrants obtain.
The Legislature's own attorneys, though, have deemed the guest worker and immigrants sponsorship programs unconstitutional. The state would need a waiver from the federal government to legally put them into practice. Nonetheless, the programs are to go into effect no later than July 2013 regardless of federal approval.
Gov. Gary Herbert is under pressure from all sides to veto the legislation. He said he has concerns about some areas but would not talk specifics or reveal his leanings.
"At the end of the day, it would probably be unwise for me think we're going to get a perfect bill or group of bills out of this discussion. So, I'm going to be looking for those imperfections and then see what can be done about them," he said.
Herbert did not rule out addressing the issue in special legislative session this summer.
A prominent immigration attorney said that while GOP-dominated Utah showed moxie in passing legislation that's "magnanimous in nature," it is unlawful.
"It does contain some echoes of Arizona law," said Michael Wildes, a former federal prosecutor who practices in New York City. "I think eventually the federal government will file a lawsuit against the state of Utah as it did in Arizona."
Furthermore, he said he expects President Barack Obama to speak out against what the state did. If the president sides with Utah, he said, he would lose support for reform on the federal level.
"I don't see any way this will carry forward in the environment we're in," said Wildes, whose father, Leon Wildes, was John Lennon's immigration attorney in the 1970s.
Legislators say their action was spurred by Washington's inaction.
"Is the constitutional note valid? Yes. Is there willingness and readiness to fight back on this? Yes," said Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, who joined the majority Republicans in approving the bills.
HB116 sponsor Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, said guest workers are needed to fill jobs in areas such as agriculture that Americans won't do.
"Anything we do with this bill is better than what we do now, even if we only have five people sign up," said during a committee hearing. "Nothing in this bill sends us backwards."
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