This past summer, Utah State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R) introduced an enforcement-only immigration bill that closely mirrored the controversial law that was passed in Arizona earlier this year.
However, it appears his bill won’t be the only immigration legislation on the docket. Utah state Sen. Luz Robles (D) has teamed up with the Sutherland Institute — a local conservative think tank — to write a bill that would require undocumented immigrants in Utah to learn English, enroll in civics classes, undergo criminal-background checks, and eventually carry a state-issued work permit. Employers would be penalized for hiring undocumented immigrants without the permits. Salt Lake City’s Fox13 reports:
Robles introduced Tuesday a 21-page piece of legislation still in the drafting stages called the Utah Pilot Accountability Permit Program. [...] Robles says the program is not amnesty or a path to citizenship.
“Immigration is a federal issue and we all recognize that, but the federal government has failed to take care of this issue and it has been an issue for at least decades,” said Robles. “The state have been working on reactionary and proactive solution and we believe this is a Utah solution.”
There to support Robles’ bill, The Sutherland Institute’s president, Paul Mero says it is the most conservative legislation in Utah that will ultimately hold undocumented immigrants living in the state accountable. “The only other option that is out there right now has been suggested by representative Sandstrom. And that’s a catch and release bill and there is zero accountability,” Mero said.
Watch Fox13′s coverage:
Anti-immigrant groups have blasted Robles’ proposal. Cherilyn Eagar of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, stated, “If they are working and undocumented, they are committing felonies. So I don’t know who they are planning on identifying, other than those who are committing crime, and that’s why we need Sandstrom’s bill.” (The act of being in the U.S. unlawfully is actually a misdemeanor).
However, Robles and the Sutherland Institute claim that their proposal is far more practical than Sandstrom’s alternative. Paul Mero, president of The Sutherland Institute said the bill offers total accountability, stating, “It prescribes, in no uncertain terms, that if you’re an undocumented immigrant in Utah, you’ll either proudly carry an accountability card or you won’t. If you do, you’re welcome among us. If you don’t, you’re not welcome among us. It’s that simple.”
Dimitri Mumulidisz of the Democratic Lawyers Council further explained that the bill makes economic sense. Mumulidisz went as far to say that it would create a “positive revenue stream for Utah,” as putting undocumented immigrants in the system and on tax rolls would raise wages for those currently being exploited.
Although it sounds like Robles’ bill certainly represents a commonsense approach to immigration, it’s too early to say whether it will overcome several of the federal preemption issues that often conflict with state and local immigration bills. However, at the very least, it presents an offensive move and an alternative to all the draconian, Arizona copycat laws that are currently popping up across the country. Also, the fact that polls show that most Americans support a rational approach to immigration that is similar to the Utah Pilot Accountability Permit Program over Arizona’s SB-1070 suggests that it may even be met with more widespread support.