A series of measures aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration are already working their way through the House. And now, those with a stake in the immigration debate are beginning to pore over a Goliath-size Senate measure.
Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, promised a comprehensive bill to address illegal immigration, and SB81, which was released Thursday, lives up to that promise. It impacts areas from public benefits to law enforcement to employment.
"It touches a number of things," Hickman said of the bill modeled after an Oklahoma law. "What we're trying to accomplish here is to enforce the laws. ... These laws are already on the books, federal and state."
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, on Thursday called immigration "probably the hottest issue this session" based on constituent response.
"This is a major topic," Valentine said. "People are really, really concerned. The federal government has failed us."
However, he said many of the bills being proposed are reactionary, such as repealing the driving privilege card, which is not included in Hickman's bill. Still, he did see validity in at least one idea requiring an agreement for some Utah public safety officers to receive federal training to perform some immigration enforcement.
Many issues are addressed in both individual House bills and SB81, such as a proposed repeal of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and requiring a federal verification system for new hires by public employers. There are also unique provisions, including a class A misdemeanor for harboring, concealing or transporting illegal immigrants.
It also prevents undocumented immigrants from receiving identification cards, even from private entities. However, Hickman said it allows educational institutions to issue IDs for on-campus purposes and allows other such limited-use identification cards, he said.
It won't go so far as to deny, for example, a Costco card to an undocumented immigrant.
"That really isn't an ID document," Hickman explained. "It's just for admittance to Costco."
The bill was made public only Thursday, so most agencies and organizations were still trying to comprehend it fully.
Robin Riggs, vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber, said based on a preliminary review, "we will tend not to support Hickman's bill on its face.
"The Chamber would rather have Congress deal with this issue," he said. "In spite of the good intentions of legislators, we believe there will be unintended consequences, especially when you deal with the work force and economic growth."
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, deferred comment until the bill could be reviewed thoroughly. So did Judi Hilman, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project.
"These kinds of bills often have a very harmful impact on access to health care," Hilman said. "I will be studying it closely."
And Adam Burgett of Crossroads Urban Center expressed concerns the bill may make it harder for nonprofits and other community groups "to meet people's basic necessities."
The bill requires federal eligibility verification for public benefits. Based on a preliminary review, it probably won't impact the Department of Workforce Services much because there are already such checks for those applying for food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families, said agency spokesman Curt Stewart.
The bill is one more piece of legislation that has immigrant rights activists cringing.
"It's very frustrating," said Tony Yapias, head of Proyecto Latino de Utah. "We feel helpless." The word "disgusting" came to Antonella Romero Packard, co-chair of the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force.
Not only could the bill lead to alienating people and racial profiling, "we're putting an onerous burden also on businesses."
On the other side, Ronald Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, was also still reviewing the bill, saying on first glance, "overall, it's a really, really solid bill."
However, Mortensen expressed concern that the Senate could toss aside all the measures and opt instead for a study being proposed as an alternative by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.
"We're very concerned about the possibility the Senate will stall it and then study it," Mortensen said. "This issue has been studied to death. ... The public is not going to accept a study as doing something. We want concrete action now."
Hickman, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which releases bills for debate, said he'll see how his bill pans out before sending out Jenkins' study proposal. Hickman, however, isn't in a rush for a debate. He's waiting on the "whole cluster" of House measures to make their way to the Senate.
"We want to come out here with the best consensus piece of legislation we can develop," Hickman said. "The Senate does not have all the brainpower. The House has a considerable amount of brainpower."Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said that when deciding on whether to pass the comprehensive measure, lawmakers will have to evaluate whether the provisions they agree with outweigh those they don't. When it comes down to a vote, he said, "It's just a straight yes or no."
SB81 At A Glance
-Requires jail officials make a "reasonable effort" to determine the citizenship and legal status of suspects charged with felonies or drunk driving, and notify the Department of Homeland Security if status can't be determined.
-Creates a "rebuttable presumption" that illegal presence is a flight risk.
-Prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining restaurant or private club liquor licenses.
-Repeals a law allowing undocumented immigrants who attend Utah high schools and graduate to pay instate tuition, effective May 1, 2010.
-Requires that contractors withhold state income tax at the top rate for independent contractors whose employment authorization isn't verified, and holds contractors who fail to comply liable for the state taxes, unless those taxes are exempt from federal withholding.
-Makes citizenship, permanent residency or other legal status, with a few exceptions, a requirement for identification documents ranging from employee and customer IDs to government IDs, to labor union membership cards, to medical alert identification.
-Starting July 1, 2009, requires public employers to use federal E-Verify program to check the legal status of new hires.
-Starting July 1, 2009, Contractors would have to use E-Verify to contract with the public employers.
-Starting July 1, 2009, Makes it discriminatory for an employer to discharge a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident employee when an undocumented immigrant is performing a similar job, and creates a cause of action for an employee to sue.
-Requires verification of legal status of applicants age 18 or older who apply for public benefits that aren't required federally to be provided. Exemptions include health care - except organ transplants, short-term, noncash, in-kind emergency disaster relief, public health assistance for immunizations, testing and treating of communicable diseases, and programs such as soup kitchens that deliver community level services needed for the protection of life or safety.
-Agencies must verify signed affidavits through the federal SAVE program operated by the Department of Homeland Security. A false affidavit would be cause for criminal charges and a false claim of U.S. citizenship would be reported to the Attorney General's Office.
-State agencies or departments that provide public benefits would need to provide annual report to the governor, Senate president and House speaker, on its compliance and ensure it is not denying benefits to legal residents.-Subject to availability of funding, the attorney general establishes a Fraudulent Documents Identification Unit to target the sale and distribution of fraudulent documents.
-Requires the attorney general to enter into a agreement with Department of Homeland Security for "enforcement of federal immigration and customs laws" by some state and local law enforcement personnel. It prevents local governments from prohibiting such an agreement
-Creates a Class A misdemeanor for transporting, concealing or harboring an undocumented immigrant "knowing or in reckless disregard" of their status.