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Utah’s Alternative To AZ Copycat Bill Would Generate Over $30 Million

Late last year, I reported on a bill that was being drafted in Utah as an alternative to the Arizona copycat law being introduced by Utah State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R). Rather than providing costly enforcement-only solutions, the new legislation introduced by Utah state Sen. Luz Robles (D) 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 under the new bill.

A new fiscal note shows that Robles’ bill would generate upwards of $11 million in revenue during the first six months after it is enacted and an additional $20 million the following years. The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:

Sen. Luz Robles will unveil the fiscal note to her immigration reform bill Wednesday to the House Republican Caucus that, according to legislative analysts, would generate $11.3 million in revenue during the first six months after it is enacted and $20 million the following year.

Those figures are only tax revenues generated from workers, Robles said, and don’t include the bill’s fees for accountability cards that must be purchased by undocumented people in Utah. The fiscal note indicates that revenues for the cards could reach as high as $18 million on top of the tax revenues. […]

The revenues, based on registering 60,000 undocumented people in Utah, would also be enhanced by a $500 registration fee for the accountability card. The cost to the state for them — per individual — would be $173. There would be a family discount in registering for the card.

Meanwhile, Sandstrom’s bill would cost the state an estimated $11 million. That figure doesn’t take into account a 2008 study estimated that, if Utah successfully removed all of its undocumented immigrants, it would lose $2.3 billion in economic activity, $1.0 billion in gross state product, and approximately 14,219 jobs. A fiscal-impact statement on a similar Arizona copycat bill proposed in Kentucky estimated that it would cost the state a net $40 million a year in court, prison and foster-care costs. Arizona itself has already spent over a million dollars to simply defend a law that the courts have not even permitted to fully go into effect.

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The fiscal benefits of Robles’ proposal are in line with other studies which have highlighted the positive economic impact of bringing undocumented immigrants out of the underground economy. A study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that comprehensive immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to legally work in the U.S. on a national scale could generate a cumulative $1.5 trillion increase in GDP.

Even at the state level, Robles’ legislation is no substitute for immigration reform and 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, her level-headed proposal has provided lawmakers with a pro-active alternative to Sandstrom’s legislation and already garnered the support of a House Republican sponsor and the backing of the conservative Sutherland Institute.