In a legislative session that ran late into the evening March 4, Utah passed a series of immigration bills that left almost no one happy–and that some are convinced cannot be implemented.
On the one hand, a bill was passed to crack down on illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Utah. On the other hand, a bill was passed creating a guest worker program that would enable those undocumented people already in the state the chance to apply for legal guest worker status.
The measures, approved by the State Senate and House on Friday night, would allow illegal immigrants to get a permit to work in the state. They also include a requirement that the police check the immigrant status of anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor.
Supporters said that the package balanced economic needs and compassion; opponents argued that it would probably encourage more illegal immigration.
The most vocal critic of that provision, Representative Chris Herrod, a Republican, said that a guest worker program would draw more illegal immigrants to the state.
“People think we’ll be seen as compassionate,” Mr. Herrod said. “People will actually see us as weak. They will see we don’t care about the rule of law.”
• Establish in the Department of Public Safety a program for illegal immigrants to obtain a work permit in Utah.
• Impose fines of up to $2,500 on those who apply for the permit.
• Require businesses with 15 or more employees to verify their legal status or face penalties including fines and business license suspensions.
• Require police to check the immigration status of people detained or arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors; give police discretion to check the status for those suspected of class B and class C misdemeanors.
The bill allows illegal immigrants in the state prior to May 11, 2011 to be eligible for the guest worker permit, which Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said not just opens the door to illegal immigrants but opens the barn door.
“We believe Utah is confused,” said Dee Dee Garcia Blase, executive director of the national Hispanic Republican group SOMOS Republicans.
“I think it is hypocritical to say you want to run Mexicans out of the state and then say you want to set up a guest worker program. This shows why it is so important that the federal government do a complete overhaul of immigration laws,” she said.
She also said Utah cannot implement a guest worker program or give people there illegally amnesty without getting permission to do so from the federal government.
“They passed a flurry of immigration-flavored bills, that’s for sure,” said Antonella Packard, northwest director of SOMOS, who lives in Utah.
“It’s clear that Utah wants to send the message that they are not Arizona, but this is a funny way to do it,” she said.
“Maybe the guest worker bill will at least spark some ideas in the federal government,” she said.
Small photo is of Utah Governor Gary Herbert (State of Utah)