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Senate flexes its muscle on omnibus immigration bill


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In a show of strength, a senate committee tabled Rep. Chris Herrod’s house bill affecting immigration enforcement, before passing out a senate bill that used similar elements as Herrod’s bill.---

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo presented his bill to make Utah a mandatory user of the e-verify employment system. That system is currently used on the federal level at a voluntary basis and allows employer checks of their employee’s immigration status. Herrod made an impassioned plea for his bill as a means of discouraging undocumented immigration to the state, arguing those immigrants are harmful to American society.

“Our melting pot is in danger,” Herrod told the committee. “If we break it, it will fracture into a thousand pieces.” Representatives of various immigration groups, Tea Partiers and 9/12 groups spoke in favor of Herrod’s bill, but Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem took Herrod to task on the language of his bill. Valentine pointed out inconsistent language in the bill relating to penalties for employers who hire undocumented laborers. Valentine led the committee in tabling Herrod’s bill arguing it wasn’t ready yet. The motion carried and with the session expiring next week, the bill will be unlikely to return.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, next took the podium to present the Senate GOP’s long-awaited immigration omnibus bill. The bill announced late in the session incorporates different elements of various bills presented in the session including enforcement provisions similar to Herrod and Sandstrom’s bill, a guest-worker provision and amendments to affect in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants.

“This is the culmination of six weeks of intense work for 25 legislators and various stakeholders across the spectrum, as we have looked at various immigration proposals,” Bramble told the committee. The guest worker program would be extended to workers in the state prior to May 10, 2011. Similar to other bills like Luz Robles’ immigrant database, the guest-worker program in SB 288 would require applicants to complete criminal background checks. They would not be required to take English and civics classes but would be required to make a “good faith” effort at obtaining English-language proficiency.

The bill would also require guest workers to pay a $1,000 fine if they entered the country legally but overstayed on a visa. A $2,500 fine would be imposed on immigrants who entered the country illegally. “Amnesty is a violation of a law for which there is no consequence,” Bramble said. “This provides that penalty.”

The program would also utilize employment verification. Guest workers under the program would be able to use a U-Verify program if they had existing guest-worker status. Or would be required to use an e-verify type system. Penalties to employers would be different in Bramble’s bill than in Herrod’s first offenses in Bramble’s bill would be a single $500 fine. Maximum civil penalties would reach a $10,000 fine and the revocation of a business’ license for one year. Under Herrod’s bill the maximum penalty would involve revoking a business’ license permanently.

The bill also addressed in-state tuition by allowing children of undocumented immigrants the ability to receive in-state tuition if their parent or guardian was a guest-worker. Bramble signaled that he was open to the idea of his bill also operating concurrently with a current bill sponsored by Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman that would as amended revoke the benefit unless the student can show prove they, or their parents, have paid income taxes for the previous three years.

One key difference in Bramble’s bill is the fact that while a federal waiver will be sought to implement the guest-worker program, that if the government fails to act, then the state will implement the program on it’s own, effective July 1, 2013.

The bill while presented as comprehensive on economic concerns as well as enforcement,¬†was received by many 9/12 groups’ representatives, citizens and Tea Partiers in the public comment, as a secretive bill, meant to provide amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

“I find the timetable of this bill extremely offensive, and the behind closed door methods it was made,” said David Haring of the Utah County 9/12 group. “This is a Washington-style bill, no; this is a Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid-style bill.”

Alexandra Eframo, 78 years old, challenged the committee on being soft on undocumented immigrants. “You people have degrees! You should be more intelligent!” she screamed.

Jacquie Nielsen, who introduced herself as a “Tea Party patriot” warned committee members that their actions would resonate into the next election.

“Illegal immigration is the issue of the next election,” Nielsen said. “It may not be important to you but it is important to the citizens of the state. They are looking for legislators to enact bills that reflect what is best for the majority of citizens of the state. When we get our house in order then we can think about what we can do for people who are willing to push legal immigrants aside and shove their way into this country and risk our children’s and our grand children’s future and then demand their entitlements.”

In closing committee discussion Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, argued, however that a comprehensive approach was the best way forward and if it couldn’t be agreed to, a legislative impasses on the issue would mean more of the status quo. Pushing forward with reform, he said, however might send the right message to the federal government.

“Hopefully as we come up with solutions here, they can coalesce with other states and hopefully tip the federal government to do what they need to,” Niederhauser said.

Ultimately the committee agreed and passed the bill out favorably with 7 yes votes to 1 no vote.