A panel of lawmakers is set to take a look at the potential implications of a sweeping immigration measure approved by the Legislature.

SB81, which creates barriers against undocumented immigrants getting jobs or public benefits, received strong support after a series of amendments, including a delay in the effective date until July 2009 to give time for study.

That study will be done by the Immigration Interim Committee, which holds its first meeting Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Utah State Capitol. Key will be a look at the impact of similar legislation in other states, said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, the committee's co-chairman, who proposed a bill to create a task force.

"We've got to enforce our borders. We've also got to keep a strong economy," said Jenkins. "We are walking a little bit of a tightrope here."

SB81 was originally modeled after an Oklahoma law, considered one of the toughest in the country. In Arizona, lawmakers recently passed a law aimed at closing loopholes in a law aimed at cracking down on employers who hired illegal immigrants. And there is also the question of litigation, as get-tough measures often spur lawsuits.

It's states such as those that Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, says the committee needs to look at to gauge the potential impact of SB81.

"I'm optimistic we really will have a survey of what's been done," said Romero, a committee member and one of only five senators who voted against sending SB81 to the House. "We can take what ... has been best in other state provisions and delay or modify those procedures that have been found to not be helpful."

While immigrant rights groups and business and religious leaders had called for the study, some illegal immigration opponents argued action is needed now. They worry that task force members could water down the measure before it has a chance to work.

Jenkins said the goal is "to be careful and cautious." Sweeping changes aren't likely, he said, unless they're merited and have strong support.

Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, who sponsored SB81 and also serves on the committee, said the purpose is to evaluate the measure and "make some improvements, probably, in most cases strengthen it."

The ultimate goal is "an immigration bill that is fair and that solves the illegal immigration problem," Hickman said. "We have to do that in ways that remove the economic incentive for people to come here who are undocumented and illegal."


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com