|At the beginning of the legislative session six weeks ago, I wrote a column discussing arguments for and against the passage of state laws to enforce federal immigration policy.
In this column, I will provide an update on the current status of various Utah bills dealing with illegal immigration.
Probably the most-publicized immigration bill is Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act. This bill would require police officers in Utah who stop a person for a suspected felony or class A misdemeanor to check the person's legal immigration status if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien.
The bill would allow, but not require, these same checks for persons stopped for class B or C misdemeanors. The bill does not allow a police officer to check the immigration status of all passengers in a vehicle if the vehicle was pulled over for a suspected violation by the driver only.
Rep. Sandstrom's bill also requires any state agency that provides public benefits to verify that the recipient is not an illegal alien, and imposes criminal penalties for a recipient who misrepresents his or her legal immigration status on such an application.
I voted for this bill because I believe that the presence of large numbers of undocumented immigrants in Utah is causing substantial financial and societal impact to legal citizens in our state.
I believe that increased enforcement of immigration laws will discourage illegal aliens from coming to Utah and will encourage those who are here to leave.
This bill passed the House on a vote of 58 to 15 and is now in the Senate.
Another immigration bill is Rep. Chris Herrod's Employment of Unauthorized Aliens Act. This bill prohibits an employer from knowingly or intentionally employing an illegal alien.
The bill requires all private employers in Utah with 15 or more employees to use the E-Verify system to confirm the legal immigration status of all new hires. The bill requires the business license of an employer to be temporarily suspended for a first violation and permanently revoked for a subsequent violation.
The bill also requires all public employers in the state, including cities and counties, to annually certify in writing that they are using E-Verify to prohibit the employment of illegal aliens.
I voted for this bill because it is essential for Utah to promote compliance with laws governing illegal immigration. By ensuring that all workers have proper documentation, we will foster transparency and order in immigration matters.
The bill passed the House 49 to 20 and is now in the Senate.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Herrod allows hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to be reimbursed by the state of Utah for any free medical care that federal law requires them to give to illegal immigrants.
The estimated cost of this bill to the state is $26 million per year. The bill also requires the Utah Department of Health to develop a strategy to sue the federal government for reimbursement of these amounts.
I voted for this bill in order to highlight the injustice of the federal mandate that local health care providers furnish free medical care to illegal immigrants. The bill passed the House 57 to 14 and is now in the Senate.
Another immigration bill is the Guest Worker Act sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright. This bill allows undocumented immigrants and their immediate family members who are in the U.S. on or before May 10, 2011 to work and live in Utah if they register with the state and provide proof of continuing employment.
The bill requires each worker to obtain and keep a registration card and to show it upon request. The permit is valid for two years. The permit holder must keep updated contact information on file with the state.
Permit holders must pay all income and employment taxes.
The bill prohibits a permit holder from receiving any welfare or unemployment benefits. A permit is revoked if the worker has an unexcused absence from work for ten consecutive days.
Priority in issuing permits is given to applicants who have applied for U.S. citizenship.
Permit holders are required to learn English. Convicted felons would not be eligible for a guest worker permit.
The bill also requires all persons living in Utah to show picture identification when they are stopped by police or else be fingerprinted and photographed on the spot.
This bill does not go into effect until July 2013 in order to give time for the state to seek permission from the federal government for its implementation.
I voted for this bill because I believe that, in combination with the other immigration enforcement laws described above, it will allow Utah to monitor and regulate the illegal immigrant population that remains in our state, while allowing employers to conduct legitimate business operations using documented immigrant labor.
The bill passed the House 43 to 28 and is now in the Senate.
A final immigration-related bill would repeal a current Utah law that gives in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who attend and graduate from three years of Utah high school.
I voted for an amendment to this bill that will require these students to show that their parents pay Utah income tax each year in order to receive in-state tuition rates.
With this amendment, I think that this policy strikes the right balance for college-bound children, especially in light of the increased enforcement provisions discussed above, which will greatly slow the flow of illegal immigrants.
This bill is still being debated on the House floor.
There are several other immigration bills, many of which combine elements of those discussed above. House and Senate leadership will now work for the last ten days of the legislative session to move each of these concepts through both bodies.
As always, please feel free to contact me to express your thoughts pertaining to any legislative matters.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 435-657-0185.
BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL