Utah immigration bill may survive with few tweaks
December 8, 2008
SALT LAKE CITY ” A bill aimed at tightening Utah’s immigration policy is expected to survive with just a few tweaks, according to a state lawmaker supporting the changes.
Senate Bill 81 was approved earlier this year but doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2009.
Among other things, the reform bill would require public employers to use a citizen-verification program for workers and would criminalize transportation or harboring of an undocumented immigrant for financial gain.
Members of the legislative Immigration Interim Committee traveled the state in recent months to hear public comments about the proposal.
“Most people have been supportive of SB81, and there was some opposition, but a lot of groups have asked for a stronger law,” said Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace. “But SB81 is a reasonable compromise.”
He said he expects two amendments: one that would clarify a provision requiring businesses contracting with the state to hire only legal workers, and another dealing with the timing of changes to Utah driver licenses.
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Other lawmakers have suggested scrapping the bill.
Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, plans to push for a replacement bill calling for a study on the effects of undocumented workers on the Utah economy.
“We’ve gotten a lot of emotional testimony on the good side and bad side of illegal immigration, but we need to have a study conducted to look into the real facts of the matter,” said Clark, a member of the immigration committee. “Knee-jerk reactions such as SB81 will not help the state.”
The bill would require law enforcement officers to verify the citizenship status of inmates and have officers play a larger role in immigration issues.
“Law enforcement doesn’t want to be out on the street to make those types of determinations and making arrests solely on their illegal status,” said Cache County Sheriff Lynn Nelson, president of the Utah Sheriff’s Association. “If there’s a crime committed, though, and they’re convicted and in jail, we’re pretty supportive of the bill.”
Community activist Michael Clara urged moving slowly, especially given the bill’s estimated price tag of $1.75 million.
“When state agencies are making cuts across the board, there’s not going to be much appetite to deal with immigration the way SB81 will deal with it,” Clara said.
Some activists are disappointed that, even after a year of testimony, the bill appears to be headed for approval with few changes.