A new measure in the works could leave employers who hire undocumented workers subject to litigation.

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, has opened a bill file titled "Unfair Trade Practice — Hiring Illegal Immigrants." The bill would make it unfair competition to hire undocumented workers, McCoy said.

As an example of how it could be used, he said a construction company that "only hires legal folk and ... pays them market wages" would be able to sue a competing company that is able to undercut its costs — and win bids — by hiring illegal workers and paying them less.

The bill will be among several dealing with illegal immigration that lawmakers will consider in the current legislative session. Other employment measures would require certain employers to verify workers' legal status using the federal Internet-based E-Verify program, including HB98, which passed its first hurdle this week and is awaiting debate in the House.

"The focus has been on the immigrant," McCoy said of the other bills. "I think it's important that we remember that in this issue there are lots of people that need to be talked to and need to take responsibility for the situation that we're in, and that includes the business community."

Frank Cordova, director of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, declined to comment on it until he could review it, but he did say, given McCoy's past record, he'd be surprised if McCoy sponsored a "direct attack" on undocumented workers.

"If you hurt the businesses, you hurt the people," Cordova said. "I can only see that it's going to harm people if they're not able to work."

In the last session, McCoy called for a comprehensive audit of the costs and benefits of illegal immigration. The audit never materialized, but McCoy said this session he's watching SB97, sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, to create an immigration task force to study the issue.

"I'm watching to make sure the mission of that task force includes analyzing the potential costs of illegal immigration but also the benefits," McCoy said.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. also mentioned SB97 while talking with reporters Thursday, calling it something that would look at what needs to be done on a "realistic basis," given that the federal government has "abdicated its responsibility."

"I think there's some merit to that," Huntsman said. "All of this is going to wait for some sort of federal fix that must be part of the landscape."

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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