SALT LAKE CITY -- The start date for a guest worker program for illegal immigrants in Utah has been pushed back by two years.
On Thursday morning, the last day of the Legislature's 45-day session, the House gave final approval to a bill pushing back the date. The program was set to begin at the start of July but there appears to be activity in Washington, D.C., indicating Congress is considering the issue, so the Utah Legislature decided to push the start date back to give Congress time to act.
"We had all of the members from our federal delegation tell us that they plan to do something about immigration," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the chief sponsor of the legislation. "We're going to give them time to act."
The bill passed through the House with little debate as the legislation ended up being sponsored by House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. Lockhart generally does not sponsor legislation as her role as speaker takes the bulk of her time during the session. Lockhart said she ran the bill as a favor to Bramble. Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, was originally the House sponsor for the legislation.
When asked if she ran the bill for Bramble to ensure its passage in the House Lockhart said that wasn't the issue. She noted the bill passed with a clear majority, 51-23.
"It is obviously a bill I support whole-heartedly," she said.
The bill now moves forward to be considered by the governor.
Utah's guest worker program for illegal immigrants was created by the Legislature in 2011. The program sought to give Utah a mechanism to know how many illegal immigrants were actually living and working within its borders and what they were doing.
For the program to go into effect the state would need approval from the federal government, as immigration matters fall under its purview. If Utah attempted to implement the plan without the federal government's consent, local businesses could be charged with a federal crime for knowingly employing illegal immigrants. Lawmakers hope permission is granted or that a nationwide system is put in place in the next two years before the program is set to begin.