SALT LAKE CITY — A citizens initiative that would make it more difficult to employ illegal immigrants was filed Tuesday in Salt Lake County in an effort to challenge the state's new guest worker program at the local level.
The proposed "Lawful Employment Ordinance" was delivered to the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office by former Utah Congressman Merrill Cook and members of a new group formed to support the initiative, Citizens Aligned to Secure Utah's Prosperity, or CATSUP.
"We're sending a spear right through what the Legislature just passed," Cook said, referring to HB116, "Utah's very unconstitutional, totally amnesty ladened guest worker permit program."
Speaking to the cheers of nearly 50 supporters, many wearing T-shirts printed with ketchup bottles, Cook said they were fighting the guest worker program because it "makes Utah the sanctuary, amnesty capital of America. And we are bound and determined to put a stop to that."
Cook, who helped bring three other mostly tax-related initiatives to Utah voters over the years that ultimately failed at the ballot box, said he was attempting this time to change a law through local, rather than statewide petition drives.
He said a similar petition also was filed Tuesday in Washington County, and drives are expected to be launched soon in other counties and municipalities, including those within Salt Lake County.
"I want to have at least some wins," Cook said, acknowledging the effort could create a situation where the guest worker program was used in some jurisdictions and not others.
If enough voter signatures are collected to qualify the initiative for the ballot — and if voters approve it — employers that hire undocumented workers would be penalized, by first suspending and, for a subsequent violation, revoking their business licenses.
The ordinance also aims to stop the controversial guest worker program passed by the 2011 Legislature, Cook said, through making "unauthorized aliens" as defined by federal law unable to participate.
The initiative filing comes as delegates to Saturday's state GOP convention are being asked to approve a resolution calling for HB116, to be repealed. The law is set to take effect in 2013, or sooner if a federal waiver is granted.
Cook said he supports the GOP resolution calling for the repeal of HB116 and expects to circulate initiative petitions at the party's state convention. He said unlike the initiative, however, the resolution is "an important suggestion for the Legislature."
Salt Lake County Elections Director Scott Konopasek said the filing submitted by Cook Tuesday will be reviewed by the county auditor to determine if it has a fiscal impact as well as the county attorney.