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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signs immigration bills into law

Published: Tuesday, March 15 2011 4:19 p.m. MDT

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (right) shakes hands with Presiding Bishop H. David Burton of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (left) after signing a package of immigration bills Tuesday, March 15, 2011 in the Gold room of the State Capitol. Pamela Atkinson (center) looks on.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Surrounded by supporters urging the federal government to tackle  illegal immigration, Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law Tuesday a series of bills passed by the Utah Legislature that have been described as a "Utah solution" to the issue.

"Utah is doing the right thing, is doing the hard thing. Doing nothing is not an option," Herbert said in a brief signing ceremony in the Capitol's Gold Room attended by business, legislative and religious leaders, including Presiding Bishop H. David Burton of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Asked by a reporter for the LDS Church's public position on the immigration bills, Bishop Burton said the church had endorsed the Utah Compact. "We feel that the Legislature has done an incredible job on a very complex issue," Burton said.

The bills Herbert signed — , HB116, HB466, HB469, HB497 — include new measures for enforcement, a guest worker program, a migrant worker partnership with Mexico, employee verification and employer sanctions.

Meanwhile, Legal Immigrants for Illegal Immigration Enforcement decried Herbert's decision to sign the bills, particularly HB116, the guest worker bill.

Arturo Morales-Llan, a GOP delegate and coalition founder, said in a statement that the Herbert's signature of HB116 "is the worst insult the legal residents of Utah have ever received by their sitting governor! HB116 is typical Washington-style politics and we condemn its practice by our elected officials. This new law puts a stamp of approval on illegal immigration and those who come into this country illegally. This fatally flawed law confirms that Utah is a sanctuary state."

Morales-Llan said Herbert chose to ignore the will of the people. An online petition to veto HB116, which was signed by 4,500 people, "made it clear that they do not approve of HB116 and would rather see enforcement of laws against illegal immigration."

The Legislature's own attorneys have deemed the guest worker and immigrants sponsorship programs unconstitutional, meaning the state would need a waiver from the federal government to put them into practice. 

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he has been in discussions with the Obama administration regarding the state's desire to work cooperatively with the federal government to obtain the necessary waivers, exemptions or authorizations to implement the Utah laws, which will not go into effect until July 2013.

The eyes of the nation are on the "reddest of the red states" for its take on reforming immigration laws, Shurtleff said. "They are looking at Utah as a model to do that," he said.

While the governor and legislative leaders commended the process and the goodwill of divergent voices in seeking compromise on the package of bills, all called out the federal government for shirking its responsibility in addressing the issue.'

"It's time you (federal government) step up and do what you're constitutionally mandated to do," said Rep. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.

Already, state lawmakers had reached out to Utah's congressional delegation to urge their assistance in seeking the needed waivers to put Utah law into effect. More so, they want Congress to provide federal solutions to the issues.

In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, legislative leaders urged him, as a member of the congressional delegation, to "help the State of Utah in obtaining the necessary waivers, exemptions or authorizations required to establish the Guest Worker Program in accordance with this bill."

The letter goes on to say, "Naturally, we would prefer that the United States Congress craft a workable solution to the nation's immigration issues. Absent that, the next best option is to allow states the freedom to innovate and build policies that would work locally and my provide insight to the rest of the nation."

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