Variety of bills in Utah legislative session will look at all sides of immigration issue
By Lisa Riley Roche and Joseph M. Dougherty

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010 8:17 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that Arizona's controversial immigration law is tied up in the courts, some Utah leaders think the time is right to look at other approaches to dealing with undocumented immigrants.

"Frankly, I don't really care about the Arizona bill," Gov. Gary Herbert told the Deseret News. "I care about finding a Utah solution to the unique challenges of illegal immigration in Utah."

For Herbert, a Republican running in this November's special gubernatorial election, that means going beyond enforcing laws against entering the country illegally and finding ways to accommodate the workers who already are here.

"We need to respect the rule of law," the governor said, citing principles he outlined at his recent roundtable discussion on immigration. "We need to do it in a way that understands we are dealing with human beings, in difficult situations."

He said he was pleased to see different proposals starting to surface, including one for a state-run guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to hold jobs and pay taxes.

"I think that bodes well for finally getting something that would be palatable for most people," Herbert said. "There's many roles to be played out there. It's not just law enforcement that has to take on the entire burden itself."

The governor said he's not backing any specific proposals — yet.

"I might take a hand in that and throw my support behind a certain bill," he said. "I'm more than happy to help facilitate discussion and understanding so we get it right in the state of Utah."

Lawmakers expect to see a slew of bills on immigration in the 2011 Legislature, as a result of the Arizona law focusing new attention on the U.S. Congress' lack of action.

Arizona's attempt to control illegal immigration on its own by allowing local authorities to question the immigration status of anyone stopped for other offenses was blocked last month by a federal court.

"There is a strong sentiment, a strong movement, to do something here," Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said, adding that lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have "dropped the ball."

Senate Republicans are more interested in seeing illegal immigration laws enforced, Waddoups said. "We've got a lot of them that want to round (illegal immigrants) up and get them out of here," he said of his caucus.

But both Waddoups and House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said they expect a mix of enforcement and employment measures to pass next session.

Utah isn't afraid to take on the federal government over immigration, Clark said. "That's what sets Utah apart from other states. We've historically rolled up our sleeves and dug in."

So far, the bills being drafted in advance of the January start of the session range from a much-publicized attempt to duplicate the Arizona law to making it easier for illegal immigrants to integrate into Utah society.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said he is retooling his bill based on the Arizona law to comply with the federal court's concerns about racial profiling.

"You don't want people to be nervous just because they're of a certain skin color," Sandstrom said.

He has said he should be ready to unveil his bill this week.

Although Sandstrom's bill has by far received the most attention so far, it may well be eclipsed next session by efforts to establish a guest worker program in the state.

At least two lawmakers, Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, and Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, are putting together proposals that would enable undocumented workers to legally hold jobs — and Utah businesses to legally employ them.

The Salt Lake Chamber first proposed a guest worker program two years ago, but it is only now attracting the interest of conservative lawmakers, said Lane Beattie, a former Senate president who now heads the Chamber.

"What Arizona has done is open the door for us to at least have a logical discussion without all of the mean-spiritedness," Beattie said. "We have an ability to do some things we haven't done before."

What the Chamber wants to see, he said, is cooperation with the federal government to launch what would amount to a pilot program in Utah. Beattie said would-be participants would be subject to background checks and required to have a current Utah address on file.

He said the program would make money for the state by mandating that workers pay taxes and set aside a portion of their salaries to cover health-care costs. The state would allocate slots in the program based on what jobs weren't being filled by Utahns, Beattie said.

Beattie and Stephenson recently presented the guest worker plan to lawmakers from around the country at a National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Kentucky.

Ann Morse, an NCSL program director, said the plan is "novel in that few states have looked at trying to be cooperative with the federal government" and that it is an "effort to step back and take a bigger-picture look" at illegal immigration.

Utah lawmakers are "very cognizant of the contributions of international residents," she said. "I think because of the Mormon Church and their work overseas, there's a much more nuanced view of them than in other states."

Other proposals related to immigration are efforts by Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, to repeal both a 2002 law allowing undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition and Utah's driving privilege card for illegal immigrants.

"It amazes me that lawmakers out there wonder why immigrants keep flooding into Utah when we offer these government-provided benefits to them," Wimmer said. "If we really want to deal with the problem and the issue, we need to get rid of the incentives."

Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, is looking at proposing several bills, including requiring jails, hospitals, schools and other institutions to gather data about ethnicity. Herrod said the information would help assess the true costs associated with illegal immigrants.

And Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, wants to make it possible for the state to turn over at least some information gathered on illegal immigrants applying for federally funded benefits.

Stowell came up with the idea after two state Department of Workforce Services employees were ousted for collecting personal information about supposed illegal immigrants applying for assistance.

"It's a rich resource of information to solve this problem," Stowell said.

But Senate Minority Caucus Manager Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, said she and others are working on legislation to help illegal immigrants fit into Utah society by, for example, paying taxes and learning English.

"They're here already," Robles said. "How do we integrate them so they're more a part of the community and out of the shadows?"