As the legislative session winds down to the final two and half weeks, only one immigration bill has passed either body of the state Legislature: Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's immigration enforcement bill. There are three more bills dealing with the illegal immigration problem that might also get the attention of the Legislature before the final day of the session on March 10, but two of those bills have constitutional problems and one has yet to be introduced.
Senate Bill 60 and House Bill 116 both are guest worker bills. They seek to find a way to allow those in the country illegally to apply for guest worker status in Utah. The bills would then allow the illegal residents to stay in the state as long as they follow the rules outlined in the bills. Both pieces, though, have notes on them stating that the bills might be overstepping the state's constitutional authority.
The notes state that U.S. law grants the power of regulating immigration to the federal government and that the state would need to seek waivers from the federal government to allow state law to take precedence in Utah over federal law in matters of immigration. Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, understands that having the waivers granted is an uphill battle but is hopeful Utah would be granted the waivers if her bill passes.
"I've personally got good feedback from some members in Congress and the White House saying this is so different and they are interested in this. I think our possibilities of standing and addressing that issue will be much better than any other piece of legislation," said Robles when unveiling her bill to the press.
Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, admits that his bill will probably be seen as unconstitutional and challenged in court, but argues that passing some kind of guest worker bill will provide an arena for the public to show the federal government that a fix to immigration is wanted.
"Right now there is no platform for this to even move forward. I think we need to give it a platform so we can move this process forward and see what happens. If we don't have a platform, it's never going to be addressed," Wright said.
That seems to be Robles's sentiment as well. She hopes the legislation will be seen as an answer to the problem, but also is hoping it will send a message to the federal government that citizens want a fix to immigration.
"It's time for the states to stand up and tell the federal government that they have failed on this issue. They may be failing on other issues, but in this, it has been decades," Robles said.
State Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is heading up an immigration bill that has yet to be introduced to the Legislature. Rumblings around the Capitol have been that Bramble is meeting with many lawmakers to craft a bill that follows the Utah Compact, a statement endorsed by the LDS Church, other religious organizations as well as many businesses in the state.
The compact calls for certain principles to be followed in Utah's immigration discussion. Those principles include calling for a federal solution, respect of the rule of law, keeping families united and not separated, and reaffirming Utah's reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state. There has not been a timetable set for when this bill will be introduced to the Legislature.
There are other bills dealing with issues related to illegal immigration, including health care, driving privileges and in-state tuition at Utah's colleges and universities.