Utah debates immigration reform

Francisco Javier Hernandez, who came to the U.S. from Zacatecas, Mexico, 35 years ago, gains U.S. citizenship.

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Off to Utah now, where in the area of immigration, that state is doing something very different from its neighbor to the south, Arizona. Immigration bills passed in the legislature would tighten enforcement. But they would also create a guest-worker program.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler explains.


Jeff Tyler: Hispanic activists plan to sue Utah if the governor signs a proposed immigration enforcement bill. Sort of a watered-down version of Arizona's controversial law.

Utah State Representative Stephen Sandstrom wrote the bill.

Stephen Sandstrom: It requires police to verify immigration status for Class A misdemeanors and felonies.

A competing bill would create a guest worker program. Undocumented workers currently in the state would pay a fine of $2,500. Then they could work in Utah legally. But that would still conflict with federal law.

Sandstrom: I am absolutely opposed to this bill. This bill is blatantly unconstitutional.

If the bill is signed into law, Sandstrom expects lawsuits. And he worries that it would be interpreted as a kind of amnesty.

Sandstrom: It's going to attract tens of thousands of illegal aliens here.

Ron Mortensen is founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration.

Ron Mortensen: I think it would be devastating to our school systems, to our social services systems and it would be very, very difficult on illegal workers trying to obtain jobs.

Others say Utah's economy would suffer without a guest worker program. As for the expense of defending a guest worker program in court? Mark Shurtleff, Utah's Republican attorney general, says there may not be any lawsuits. That's because the guest worker program wouldn't start for another two years. During that time, he'll try to negotiate a waiver from the federal government allowing Utah to move forward with its experiment.

Shurtleff's been in Washington this week drumming up support.

Mark Shurtleff: I mentioned this in the White House meeting that we can show that red state Utah is going to step up and say, there's a way we can work together with the federal government toward the mutual benefit and to ultimately comprehensive, just, reasonable and workable immigration reform.

He wants Congress to embrace a national compact -- a series of guiding principles for immigration reform. A similar compact in Utah helped politicians set aside partisan concerns and focus strictly on the economics of immigration.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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