February 13, 2008
"Come here, get away," and "Now you can, now you can’t."
That pretty much sums up Utah’s official position on how to treat undocumented immigrants.
In the early 1990s they were welcomed by local employers, especially in places like Park City where the seasonal, labor-intensive service economy needs to be constantly stoked with transient workers.
But this year, state lawmakers appear poised to yank the welcome mat out from under many of the mostly Mexican immigrants who’ve been working and raising their own families here for more than a decade.
As of Tuesday, two bills revoking privileges previously granted to undocumented immigrants had eked out approvals from the state House of Representatives and were slithering toward the Senate floor for further affirmation.
The first, House Bill 239, titled Driver License Qualification Amendments, would revoke all driving privilege cards on Dec. 31 of this year.
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If approved by the Senate and then signed into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., Rep. Glenn Donnelson’s (R-North Ogden) bill would undo years of advocacy by citizens and lawmakers who argued rightfully — that giving undocumented people a way to drive legally would help law enforcement and encourage immigrants to buy auto insurance.
The bill would force those who have voluntarily registered for temporary tax identification numbers, bought insurance and took state driver tests, to make a terrible choice: either stop driving (and likely lose their jobs as a result) or go back to driving illegally.
It is difficult to imagine the ripple effect HB239 could have in Park City where many immigrants live in outlying areas and commute long distances to work.
We suggest that local employers take some time this week to talk frankly with any employees who are not citizens about how the law would affect them.
A second bill is hanging in the same limbo. HB241 would affect fewer people but sends the same message — that regardless of their contributions to the community, immigrants are no longer welcome here. The bill, also sponsored by Donnelson, would repeal the in-state tuition discount previously offered to children of undocumented immigrants who attended at least four years of high school in Utah. HB 241 was approved by the House Tuesday and now goes to the Senate.
The original legislation, championed by a teacher and a legislator from Summit County, was drafted to encourage local immigrants’ children to stay in school, study and go on to college. Their thinking, and ours too, was that when kids are educated, everyone in the community stands to benefit. A handful of students took advantage of the discount, not enough to make a dent in the state’s budget but perhaps enough to serve as an example to students in the grades below them.
The Utah House’s eagerness to jump on the ultra-conservative bandwagon this year is deplorable. Yes, Congress has failed to enact any kind of reasonable immigration reform. But that does not give states the right to punish immigrants for the federal government’s schizophrenic policies.