‘Landmark’ immigration bill is passed
February 26, 2008
A watershed immigration bill the Senate passed Monday is modeled after an Oklahoma law considered one of the toughest in the nation.
Now the bill is on its way to the House.
The comprehensive legislation could require county deputies make an effort to determine the immigration statuses for suspects inside jails. Final passage of the bill may also mean the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission could not issue liquor licenses to illegal immigrants.
Senate Bill 81 could require some employers more thoroughly verify the work status of new employees and also could require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of someone who applies for state or local benefits.
"It is a landmark piece of legislation," Senate president John Valentine said Monday.
Major amendments watered down the bill before the Senate supported SB 81 24-5. Sen. Allen Christensen, a North Ogden Republican who represents most of eastern Summit County joined for Democrats in opposing the bill.
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"I realize that illegal immigration must be addressed but how to do it is my strong concern. This issue is very, very divided. Even within my own family we’re divided," Christensen said in a debate Monday on the Senate floor.
"Politically, I should pass on this then hide behind the majority vote," Christensen told his colleagues. "I cannot do that. I just can’t. I’m convinced that this is the wrong tool."
Christensen supported the bill in a preliminary vote last week and retired Rep. David Ure, a Kamas dairyman who often advocated for immigrants on the Hill, praised the East Side senator for opposing the bill.
"I would be proud to work very hard to get [Christensen] re-elected because of that vote," Ure said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He’s a good man."
A change to the bill pushed the start date for the law back to July 2009.
"Some of the amendments that were made could help temper the hard feelings of some of the minority population," Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich said about what he termed "earth-moving legislation."
Critics panned the bill because of the potential economic impacts of legislative attempts to force illegal immigrants to leave Utah.
Those impacts, however, are secondary to abiding by the rule of law, explained Sen. Bill Hickman, a St. George Republican who sponsored SB 81.
"We are a country of laws," Hickman said. "The other considerations, although important, are not as important to me We don’t have the ability to select the law that we want to ignore."
Delaying implementation of the bill allows time to study the matter, Hickman said, adding that it is too soon to estimate the bill’s impact on resort communities like Park City.
"I don’t think that the economic impact would be that severe, be it positive or negative," he said. "I believe that by the time you weigh what negative impacts there might be in the state, plus the fact that we’re spending an awful lot of revenue on additional health-care costs, public assistance and public safety, that we’ll find that it’s going to be pretty close to a neutral impact."
Business leaders pushed lawmakers to delay the effective date of the bill.
"This needs to have a discussion that is a little bit more wide-ranging. It is a federal issue, it is not a state-by-state issue," said Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. "You don’t want to create an environment where you have certain states competing with other states, in terms of a restrictive nature or literal nature, in terms of the issue."
State lawmakers haven’t succeeded in addressing immigration matters, he said.
"We have to look at it from the standpoint of what the business community has to go through in order to ensure the legality of an employee. There is a fine line that you walk there," Malone said. "How do you treat these things fair and equitably?"
Malone said he looks forward to a legislative task force weighing in.
Provisions that were controversial, including denying in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and revoking their driving privilege cards, were removed from the substitute version of SB 81 the Senate passed Monday.
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Vernal Republican who represents Park City, supported the bill.