SALT LAKE CITY — A state commission charged with guiding Utah lawmakers on issues of illegal immigration will seek funding from the 2013 Legislature for a cost-benefit study of the state's documented and undocumented immigrant population.
The Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration is developing a request for proposals for the study but presently has no funding to launch the effort. Lawmakers appropriated about $10,000 for the commission's work. Some estimates say the study could cost at least $50,000.
While some university professors have presented research they have conducted to the commission, the panel does not yet have a comprehensive look at the costs and benefits of immigration into the state.
Texas has been guided by an extensive study, said Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, a commission member.
Some university professors have addressed the commission, but Chavez-Houck said she believes policymakers and the executive branch would be better served by a comprehensive, Utah-specific study conducted by professional researchers.
"If we're going to have these discussions, let's do it using quantifiable studies and looking at it in a research-centered sort of way," she said during the panel's recent meeting.
The lack of Utah-specific data has been frustrating, Chavez-Houck said. The commission has heard a good deal of anecdotal public testimony, which has its place, she said. Absent academic research, "we're not operating from an educated perspective in talking about immigration."
The issue is complex because many households are made up of people of mixed status, including those with undocumented adults who have had children while living in the United States, said Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, commission chairman. Some children brought to the United States as infants may not be aware of their undocumented status.
In some industries, such as construction and agriculture, workers are seasonal, many of them young, unmarried men.
"The sociological impact of that is pretty low," Bell said.
But the study would also need to address financial, economic and tax implications, commission members said.
Commission member Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank in Utah, suggested the panel may consider private funding for the study.
Chavez-Houck said her preference would be that state funds be spent on the study, although she'd also consider a state match for private funds.
The research needs to be holistic and objective as possible, Chavez-Houck said.
"I think the more we make it a state-driven study the better off we are," she said.
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