The push for an enforcement-style approach has been led by Rep. Steve Sandstrom (R-Orem). His bill is titled HB 497 Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act and as its title suggests, its key element is an enforcement push by law enforcement. It also includes enforcement provisions for anyone that might try to induce an illegal immigrant to come to Utah and a requirement that legal status be documented by any state or local government agency offering a license or public benefit of any type. HB 497, after much debate and a conference committee to settle differences, passed the House and Senate.
Rep. Bill Wright (R-Holden) is sponsoring a bill that would address the issue from a more comprehensive economic point of view. HB 116 Utah Immigration Accountability and Enforcement Amendments seeks to institute a state-administered guest worker program. It would require illegal immigrants to register and obtain a work permit. Renewal of permits would be contingent on several factors. Collection of taxes from the guest workers and new provisions for illegal immigrant students and children of guest work permit holder to receive in-state tuition rates are also included.
Also included in the bill are new penalties for employers that fail to verify the lawful presence of employees and requirements that police check the immigration status of people detained or arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors. It gives police the discretion to check the status for those suspected of class B and class C misdemeanors. In order for the guest worker portion to be implemented, Utah would need to receive a federal waiver; something no state has yet received. This bill was the subject of much debate and includes many elements from an earlier omnibus bill (SB288) proposed by Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo). HB 116 passed the House and Senate and is awaiting action by the Governor.
A second guest worker bill, HB 466 Migrant Workers and Related Commission Amendments championed by Rep. Sandstrom and Sen. Bramble would take advantage of a migrant worker provision in federal law that would not require a federal waiver. The bill would authorize a skilled guest worker program to be set up between Utah and the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. The program would run as a pilot project for one-year, but could be renewed if it proves successful. This bill has passed the House and Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s action.
This is a very emotionally fraught issue, but the Legislature has attempted to address the issue with a multifaceted approach that recognizes the rule of law, economic realities and human frailties. No other issue has received more attention this year than immigration and compromise won the day. I believe we have made some progress, but there is more work to be done.
Brad Wilson represents House District 15 in Davis County. He can be reached at Bradwilson@ utah.gov during the legislative session.