From Orem Republican Rep. Stephen Sandstrom’s aggressive enforcement bill to Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Luz Robles’ undocumented workers database, Utah legislators are determined to fix the immigration problem—or at least make some noise about it to their constituents.
This feature is for those who rage against the machine, and for those who may just need a little gentle coaxing to shelve their winter apathy and head to the Hill. Once there, you’ll be armed with this two-part introduction to the 2011 Legislature. First, there’s a primer on the session’s issues. An immigration-bill roundup identifies the hot buttons of 2011, but don’t overlook bills that might slip by in all the smoke and mirrors of immigration: oil refinery tax giveaways, a pilot program for community-based mental health treatment and a don’t-call-it-a-tax-hike, sales food-tax hike.
Once you are familiar with the issues, you can condition your righteous indignation and learn how to bring pressure to bear on the Hill. Learn about three new activist groups and get tips on how to follow bills and build grass-roots organizations.
This session, more than a dozen immigration-solution bills are waiting to be introduced as Utah solutions to the nation’s immigration conundrum. How many will make it through to committee and House and Senate floors remains to be seen, but one thing is clear—they can’t all become law. The four most prominent bill proposals are listed below:
Front and center of Utah’s push for an immigration solution is Rep. Sandstrom’s Immigration Enforcement Act, which gives local law enforcement the power to detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally and requires immigrants to carry documentation proving citizenship.
While Sandstrom patterned the bill after Arizona’s controversial Senate Bill 1070, he removed more legally tenuous components from the Arizona bill, like restrictions against immigrants congregating in certain locations. He also codified in the bill that racial profiling would be prohibited—a hollow reassurance, since the bill failed to establish any penalty for officers who racially profile individuals in the service of the law.
Sandstrom will have to reconcile the fact that his bill also runs afoul of the Legislature’s previous adoption of driving-privilege cards for undocumented immigrants, since Sandstrom has indicated that the possession of such a card could be considered proof of undocumented status, providing law enforcement with grounds to detain such drivers.
Likely to pass? Yes, with compromises regarding the driver’s privilege card conflict; perhaps even a delay for implementation until Arizona’s legal battles are resolved.
Robles has, with the help of conservative think tank the Sutherland Institute, crafted a bill that would give a waiver to undocumented workers, safeguarding them against deportation, while not technically changing their legal status. Workers would pay into the system and have to prove English proficiency or sign up for English language classes as well as pass a criminal background check.
While the bill is well-intentioned in attempting to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, there’s a question as to its feasibility.
While Sandstrom’s bill would affect changes that could potentially prompt legal action by the U.S. Justice Department—Arizona’s bill is still embroiled in legal action—Robles’ bill could not be implemented until Gov. Gary Herbert successfully negotiated with one or more federal agencies for waivers for the undocumented workers. Quite simply, the feds could say “thanks, but no thanks.”
Likely to pass? No, unless practical considerations about the cost of implementation and how to provide language classes are addressed.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is not the only Republican in the Legislature to advance a more “market forces”-oriented approach to dealing with undocumented immigrants. His bill, while still in process, would allow undocumented immigrants to be sponsored by employers in an immigration program reminiscent of the Bracero programs of the 1940s and mid-50s.
But for Stephenson, the mechanism that ensures immigrants work where they’re supposed to and return to their home country as agreed should not be some overworked Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent—it should be a bounty hunter.
“If you require [a] guest worker to buy a surety bond at his expense or at the expense of his employer, who would then have a bounty hunter keep track of his whereabouts, that works,” Stephenson told an immigration forum in September. “With the surety bond, every legal guest worker is in charge of his own policing.”
Likely to pass? A 50-50 chance, depending on cost of implementation
With the federal DREAM Act killed, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, decided Utah might as well follow the fed’s lead in denying opportunities for children of undocumented immigrants and has proposed legislation to repeal the in-state college tuition currently offered to Utah students who have gone to a Utah high school for three years and whose parents are undocumented immigrants.
“It’s fundamentally unfair that an American-born citizen from Evanston, Wyo., would have to pay more to go the University of Utah than an illegal immigrant,” Wimmer told The Salt Lake Tribune in a Dec. 22 article. “It’s fundamentally flawed.”
For Antonella Packard, Utah director of the conservative Latino advocacy group Somos Republicans, however, it’s Wimmer’s logic that is flawed.
“Somebody who hasn’t lived in our state hasn’t contributed to our economy,” she says pointing out that undocumented students or families who meet the current requirements would already have contributed sales and property taxes to the local economy, more so than a student from out of state.
“I think [Wimmer] is looking at the 4th Congressional seat—and he’s made no bones about it,” Packard says. “In order to ingratiate himself, he is going after kids who are graduating and getting ready for college.”
Likely to pass? It’s too close to call. Legislators have attempted to repeal in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants every year since 2007, each year failing by a narrow margin, but this year the momentum may be there for repeal.