A coalition of immigrant-rights advocates is revamping its mission in hopes of taking a more proactive approach during the 2009 legislative session.

Utahns for the American Dream Coalition originally formed to oppose legislation aimed at repealing a state law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state schools if they attended a Utah high school for three years and graduated.

Now the coalition is taking a broader view, aimed at promoting "access to legal and viable work, health and human services," along with the pathway to citizenship.

"We are recognizing the central importance of family," said co-chairwoman Theresa Martinez. "We are thinking through our vision and our mission in a more inclusive way."

To that end, the coalition is now pushing for "practical pathways to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants and their families."

And coalition members are hoping to get lawmakers on board to sponsor legislation of their own. The hope is to turn the legislative tide after SB81, a sweeping immigration measure aimed at keeping undocumented immigrants from getting jobs or public benefits, gained overwhelming support in the 2008 session. That law is set to take effect in July 2009, following a year of study.

Details are still being worked out on many of the group's ideas. Some University of Utah students are exploring possibilities for an internship program for undocumented students.

And coalition member Pat Shea wants to establish a public-private partnership to create a student loan program for Utah high school graduates, regardless of immigration status. The loans, Shea said, would be forgivable if students go into sectors where there's a public need, such as teaching.

"It really is dependent on students taking the lead," he said. "The model is quite sound."

Such ideas will likely lead to staunch opposition from conservative lawmakers, who hope to strengthen SB81, which was amended several times before it was approved. Many of the enforcement measures aimed at employers were stripped from the bill. A provision to repeal undocumented students' in-state tuition was also removed.

Immigration was one of the major debates during the last session, and it is expected to be renewed in next year's session.

"I don't understand the rush to reward people who are in our country illegally," said Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem. "I think we should be looking at making sure students who are U.S. citizens have opportunities first, and second off helping those with legal student visas."

While the tuition repeal failed and its sponsor, Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, lost his re-election bid in last month's primary, coalition members anticipate the measure may be back, along with other get-tough measures.

Sandstrom, who has co-sponsored the tuition repeal in the past, said he'd likely support it again. However, he said his top immigration priority would be sponsoring bills to repeal undocumented immigrants' driving privilege cards and to crack down on those who employ undocumented workers.

"I definitely want to keep pursuing these issues and try to limit incentives for illegal immigrants in this state," said Sandstrom.


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com