Lawmaker’s cross hairs on illegal immigrants
Illegal immigrants might no longer qualify for lower tuition costs at state universities or be allowed to drive if bills before the Utah Legislature pass during the 2007 general session that began Monday on Capitol Hill.
Police officers could also be given more authority to arrest illegal immigrants who break laws.
Powers currently reserved for federal agents Summit County Sheriff David Edmunds isn’t sure he wants.
"If they pass a bill like that, but they don’t attach any monies with it for local law enforcement to actually engage in those types of operations, then what it essentially becomes is an un-funded mandate," Edmunds said. "Because I don’t have any money for that."
Passage of House Bill 105, sponsored by Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, would mean Utah’s Department of Public Safety would begin working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to locally enforce federal immigration laws.
The bill, however, earmarks no money for more enforcement.
"We don’t have any money to conduct any of those types of enforcement operations," Edmunds said. "I personally am not interested in going out and conducting those types of operations without money attached to it."
Meanwhile, illegal immigrants won’t be given driving privileges in Utah if Donnelson’s House Bill 220 becomes law.
Former Republican state Rep. David Ure, who represented Park City, sponsored a bill in 1999 that allowed illegal immigrants to receive driver licenses.
When opponents pushed to repeal the law, a compromise resulted in the driving privilege card, which while allowing an illegal to drive is not an identification that is approved by the government.
Since illegal immigrants have been allowed to drive more people have purchased car insurance, insists Ure, who added that driving permits allow officers to track records and identify whether illegal immigrants are criminals.
"As far as I’m concerned, there is no empirical evidence that supports the claim that more people are getting insurance because of that," Edmunds explained. "Typically, the people that are of the mind to thumb their nose at laws and thumb their nose at the system, they’re not the kind of people who are going to go out and get [permits]."
Donnelson also is leading the charge on Capitol Hill to repeal the exemption that allows some illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in Utah to attend state universities for the same price as Utah residents.
Championed by Ure, the controversial law has been under fire from lawmakers since it passed in 2002.
"I have some serious reservations about it," said Charles Cunningham, who is the newest member of the Park City Board of Education. "I have a lot of sympathy for immigrants who are coming here to try and better their lives. Having said that, I believe tuition tax breaks ought to be reserved for Utah residents, who are citizens, who are here legally."
By allowing illegal immigrants access to lower tuition costs, lawmakers have discriminated against American citizens who live outside the state, claimed Donnelson, who’s made repeated attempts at repealing the law.
This year only immigrants who register as entering students before May 1 would continue to pay lower in-state tuition costs if lawmakers pass Donnelson’s House Bill 224.
While poll numbers taken among Utahns lean toward repealing the law, Park City school board member Vern Christensen calls those "uninformed, emotional" responses.
"We’re obligated to provide an education to all children in the state of Utah as a public school," he said. "All the current law does is continue that education process on further."
Christensen added, "You’ve got a family here that is involved in their community, they’re paying taxes and providing services and now you have an opportunity for some of those children to get a better education and progress and become leaders in their community."
According to Ure, fewer than 125 students capitalized on the tuition breaks for immigrants in 2005.
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