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Stop the flow of illegal immigrants, lawmakers told

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Just say ‘no’ to illegal immigration was the message state lawmakers received at a hearing Wednesday in the Snyderville Basin.

Members of the Legislature’s Immigration Interim Committee ripped a Sutherland Institute policy statement presented at the meeting that reads, "We should welcome all people of good will to our state."

But Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, hopes a law he sponsored this year on the Hill has the opposite effect.

"You’re welcoming anybody who comes here according to this statement," Hickman told members of the conservative Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City think tank.

Hickman belongs to a legislative panel that is touring the state anticipating the controversial Senate Bill 81 taking effect July 2009.

The new law may require government employers register to use a system that verifies the work status of new employees. The law also could require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of people who apply for state or local benefits.

The law requires local police officers and sheriff’s deputies begin aggressively enforcing immigration laws by detaining people living in their communities illegally.

"I love the fact that folks at a local level are considering these policy issues and it’s great that the Legislature is hearing the public on their concerns, but the bottom line is the state Legislature has no constitutional bounds to even enact laws in this area," said Roger Psai, an immigration attorney at the firm Parson, Behle, Latimer. "When we’re talking about the federal agencies, when we’re talking about Congress, those folks were not represented in that room."

Only the federal government can make immigration laws and statutes similar to SB 81 in other states "are being challenged on constitutional grounds," Psai said.

"We can’t help lawbreakers but we also have to take a look at the law. Do we have lawbreakers or do we have broken laws?" Psai said.

The new law could make transporting or sheltering illegal immigrants in Utah a misdemeanor.

Most of the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing want the state to crack down on illegal immigrants.

"I am concerned about the direction of our country," said Phil Morgan, who lives in Salt Lake City. "It is very important that the people of Park City recognize the dangers that lie ahead."

Wasatch County resident Robert Wren complained that, " we are the overflow county for the illegal aliens who work in Park City and don’t have a place to live."

"We are educating children for Mexico," Wren said.

According to West Jordan resident Jared Green, "We should all enjoy protection under the law."

"It’s a dangerous situation we’re in when the government decides which laws to enforce and which laws to turn away from," Green told legislators.

But not everyone supports the tougher immigration measures.

"There is a fear of the unknown But I don’t think we should be basing our legislative process on people’s fear," Park City resident Glenn Wright said. "I don’t want one cent of my tax dollars in this community going to pay for our police and sheriff to enforce immigration."

Parkite Brian Harlig told legislators "it’s such a waste of time and money and energy for you guys to go around and have these input meetings."

Senate Bill 81 passed this year and is modeled after a law in Oklahoma that is one of the nation’s toughest.

Oklahoma state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Republican who participated in the Park City meeting, helped draft the legislation in his state.

"I’ve obviously been on the receiving end of some death threats and everything else for the bills that we sponsored in Oklahoma," Terrill testified Wednesday at the hearing at Ecker Hill International Middle School.

But illegal immigration "contributes to all sorts of problems," Terrill added, criticizing the federal government for not enforcing its laws.

"It’s always been the states that have stepped in to fill policy voids left by the federal government," Terrill said. "Illegal immigration remains a very serious and exponentially growing problem."

Illegal immigration threatens national security and drains tax coffers, he told lawmakers.

"Hang tough, the public supports cracking down on illegal immigration," Terrill said. "Our federal government has let us down."

The Immigration Interim Committee is seeking public input about SB 81 and more information is available at the Legislature’s Web site http://www.le.state.ut.us.


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