A majority of Utahns approve of a new state immigration law that takes effect in July 2009, according to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll.

And lawmakers on Wednesday approved an interim committee to study SB81 before its effective date.

The statewide poll of 601 registered voters found that 55 percent of Utahns approve of the new state law, which will create barriers against illegal immigrants getting jobs and receiving public benefits; 37 percent disapproved of the law. The poll, conducted March 17-20 by Dan Jones & Associates, had a 4 percent margin of error.

The results aren't surprising to Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, who sponsored SB81.

"The federal government, as I have said on many occasions, has not functioned in this area," Hickman said. "I haven't seen any of the major (presidential) candidates even step up to address this issue. I don't hold out a lot of hope for Congress to address it when we don't have the kind of leadership we need in the White House."

Utah's immigration committee was among interim studies approved by the Legislative Management Committee, after a bill including an immigration task force died in the final hours of the legislative session.

Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said the scope should be kept narrow — to SB81 and other areas the state can influence — so that the study doesn't become too broad and lose its effectiveness.

Antonella Romero Packard, co-chairwoman of the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, which has advocated for the immigration study, said the poll results seem to indicate that people recognize a problem but fail to understand the impacts — economic and human.

"People want to be together as families," Packard said. "We do not support criminal behavior. The problem is we have people living here contributing to our economy and contributing to our community as well."

When it comes to federal legislation, 49 percent of those polled said they favored an approach such as the currently pending HR4088, which would bolster border and interior security and phase in a requirement that employers verify the legal status of new hires.

Only 12 percent preferred streamlining the immigration process and giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to legal status. Another 33 percent preferred a comprehensive approach that would include both security and legal status.

Before the current congressional recess, some GOP lawmakers started circulating a petition to force a vote on the federal bill. It needs 218 signatures and has 181 so far, including Utah Republicans Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop.

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