Migrants face tough fight on the Hill | ParkRecord.com

Migrants face tough fight on the Hill

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Illegal immigrants are in the legislative cross hairs with state lawmakers poised to clamp down on foreigners who they say should not be living in Utah.

Driving privileges and lower tuition costs for illegal immigrants could fall by the wayside as lawmakers convene at the legislative general session on Capitol Hill.

A House panel approved a bill repealing Utah’s driving privilege card, which allows illegal immigrants to register and insure their vehicles. Tuesday the legislation sponsored by Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, awaited a vote on the House floor.

Supporters of driving privilege cards say the licenses serve their intended purpose: Almost 76 percent of cardholders now legally insure their vehicles.

But opponents of the card say it is frequently misused for illegal activity. They also claim it makes Utah a popular destination for illegal immigrants, because few states offer a similar card.

Another bill sponsored by Donnelson that targets illegal immigrants would require the Utah Department of Public Safety to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enforce certain immigration laws and give the authority to local police. The Senate will likely debate House Bill 237 after the House voted 44-25 to approve the measure. Mel Brown and Christine Johnson, who represent Summit County in the House, voted against the bill.

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The legislation died last year in the Senate and is expected to face a tough fight.

Some lawmakers said some people in their districts are concerned about racial profiling if the bill is passed.

Donnelson countered that there’s no reason to fear racial profiling because it’s already illegal under federal law.

"If an officer is found to engage in racial profiling, he or she will be decertified," Donnelson said.

Some police agencies might oppose the bill because it could make illegal immigrants less likely to report crimes.

But Department of Public Safety spokesman Jeff Nigbur insists troopers would not purposely pursue illegal immigrants.

"Some of the other law enforcement agencies’ concerns are simply that it would hurt relationships between the minority community and law enforcement," Nigbur said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The DPS has taken a neutral position on the bill, but "it would be helpful in some scenarios to have that ability," Nigbur said.

"One of the misnomers is that the Department of Public Safety or the Highway Patrol would go out there and proactively enforce immigration, and that’s just simply not the case," he explained. "The Highway Patrol has a lot on their plate as it is. I’m not saying that in a speeding stop we’re going to ask for their driver’s license, registration and their (immigration) papers … We probably wouldn’t even get into that."

State law enforcement officials have studied the issue since similar legislation was rejected by the Legislature last year.

About 60 officers in Alabama are trained to investigate cases related to immigration, Nigbur said.

"They said that the program has been very successful for them," he added.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee is slated to debate a bill that would make it tougher for illegal immigrants to get jobs and obtain public benefits.

The measure is modeled after a law in Oklahoma, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George. That law is considered to be one of the nation’s toughest toward illegal immigration.

Finally, a bill Donnelson sponsored that would eliminate college tuition for some illegal immigrants who graduate from Utah high schools is gaining momentum after a House committee approved the measure.

Associated Press contributed to this report.