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Utahns favor guest-worker bill letting illegals stay

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 11:18 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Of the several illegal immigration proposals floating around the Legislature, Utahns favor one that would provide work permits.

A Deseret News/KSL-TV poll found 71 percent of residents like the idea of state-issued work permits for undocumented immigrants that allow them to remain in the country if they have a job and undergo a criminal background check.

The Dan Jones & Associates survey of 496 Utahns found 24 percent opposed to such a plan, while 5 percent didn't know. It has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percent.

Jones conducted the poll Feb. 8-11 when only one guest worker-type proposal, the one advanced by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, had been made public. Since then, Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, unveiled his plan, HB116, which a House committee this week passed to the floor for further debate. Wright is pitching his plan as way to fill what he called menial jobs that Utahns aren't doing.

Robles' SB60 is slated for its first legislative hearing this week. Her bill promotes state-issued work permits, criminal background checks and English proficiency.

Undocumented immigrants would be charged an application fee, likely in the hundreds of dollars. The bill, which is being reworked to some degree, would also account for income tax revenue. Though legislative fiscal analysts are still crunching the numbers, Robles said the programs could put upward of $20 million into state coffers.

"I definitely think that it's going to change the dynamic of the (illegal immigration) discussion," she said.

Robles said she also is working with Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, to come up with a comprehensive approach that could includes parts of other bills.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, has said he's not interested in combining his enforcement-only plan with guest worker proposals because it would result in amnesty for illegal immigrants. His HB70 overwhelmingly passed the House on Friday.

An enforcement-only approach also appeals to Utahns, but not same degree as a guest worker program. Jones found in the poll that 54 percent favor a strong enforcement bill, while 39 percent oppose it.

Any bill that includes some form of guest worker program would require federal approval, something attorney and Latino community activist Mark Alvarez said won't happen. State-issued work permit, he said, would violate both the Utah and U.S. constitutions.

"There is not a Utah solution that would be practical, effective and constitutional," Alvarez said.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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