Glenn Donnelson

A new poll suggests that three in four Utahns want the state Legislature to keep in place a new get-tough immigration measure — and just over half want to make the law even tougher.

A legislative panel is evaluating SB81, a new law aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from getting jobs or public benefits, which is set to take effect in July 2009.

Some 55 percent of 405 registered voters in the Deseret News/KSL-TV poll said lawmakers should keep that law and look into further action. Another 19 percent said the new law should remain intact but tougher laws aren't needed.

Only 19 percent said the state should repeal SB81 because immigration reform is a federal responsibility. The results were from a statewide poll conducted June 16-19 by Dan Jones & Associates. The poll had an error margin of 5 percent.

The results come as advocates for get-tough immigration reform have lost two key advocates at the state level. The sponsor of SB81, Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, isn't running for re-election. And Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, known for sponsoring get-tough measures in the House, including attempts at repealing in-state tuition for undocumented college students, lost his bid to keep his seat in Tuesday's primary.

There seems to be general agreement that Donnelson's lost seat had more to do with a general mood for change, tied to national presidential politics, than to immigration.

Still, Ron Mortensen, an anti-illegal immigration advocate who lost his bid to fill a vacant Davis County Senate seat, says it will be a fight to keep SB81 intact.

"I think the business community really honestly thinks they'll be able to gut out what they don't like in the bill in the next session," Mortensen said. "I'm sure there is going to be an attack made on it."

An interim committee is tasked with evaluating SB81's impacts. That committee's co-chairman, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said based on the support for SB81, it isn't likely to be gutted.

"It was voted through fairly strongly," he said. "I see SB81 as safe. I don't see anyone making a move to change it, right now."

It's unclear where Ryan Wilcox, who unseated Donnelson for the Republican nomination, stands on the issue. Wilcox didn't respond to a Deseret News interview request. His Web site simply says he supports "meaningful" reform that "ensures enforcement of the law while remaining morally principled and economically viable."

Still, Mortensen points out there are lawmakers remaining in the race who have taken a hard line on immigration. One is Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, who sponsored state criminal penalties for human trafficking and an employment verification bill that stalled because its provisions were similar to those in SB81.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights activist Tony Yapias remains hopeful that SB81 will be softened. He said it's clear people are frustrated with immigration policy but the state can't solve the issue.

"The poll shows a clear indication they want something done about it," Yapias said. "What they don't realize is this needs to be done at the federal level."


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com