Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Governor Signs Four Immigration Bills

Governor Herbert signing immigration bills
Governor Herbert signing immigration bills

By Jenny Brundin

Salt Lake City, UT – Governor Gary Herbert signed four immigration bills today that he says he hopes will force the federal government to act on the divisive issue. The move puts Utah on a path that could go one of two ways - spurring the federal government to adopt a model similar to Utah's, or --litigation. KUER's Jenny Brundin retraces the long and twisting path to the bill signing.

Utah Representative Carl Wimmer recalls a recent weekend he spent with Russell Pearce. Pearce is the Arizona state senator who wrote the divisive SB 1070 law targeting illegal immigrants. Wimmer told Pearce that efforts to pass Arizona-style enforcement bills on Utah's Capitol Hill were running into resistance. Wimmer says Pearce was dumbfounded.

WIMMER: He said what are you guys doing?! That, if Utah can't do this, who can do this?!

But Utah's establishment, unabashedly conservative, wanted to take a different approach - to avoid the polarizing politics, negative stigma and lost convention business that hit Arizona. Dealing with Utah's 110,000 undocumented immigrants was to be less confrontational - and - based on a different set of principles.

EMCEE AT PRESS CONFERENCE: Thank you for all joining us today as we introduce the Utah Compact FADE UNDER .

Last November, as the nationwide controversy over Arizona's law raged, Utah's business and religious leaders, and the state's Attorney General, held a press conference to sign a document .. a set of principles to guide the state's immigration debate. They recognized the economic role of immigrants and opposed policies that separate families. And today .after six weeks of tumultuous legislative debate, Governor Gary Herbert signed into law 4 bills that reflect some of those principles. Herbert said, they also send a strong message to Washington D.C.

HERBERT: Most of the frustration, which is now developing into anger and frustration has come because the federal government has been on the sidelines not participating in the game of immigration reform and today we're saying that's not acceptable.

One bill sets up a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants to live and work here with their families. To get a permit, workers would pay a $2,500 fine and pass a criminal background check. But first, Utah needs a federal waiver which immigration attorney Mark Alvarez says is not going to happen. He says lawmakers used the guest worker program as a carrot to mask several sticks that are also in the package, that is, enforcement measures.

ALVAREZ: I think the carrot and stick approach was public relations from the very beginning to try to keep Utah from getting a black eye that would have come had Utah passed and implemented something like SB 1070 from Arizona.

But Utah's leaders disagree. Herbert, flanked by business, political and religious leaders, said doing nothing is unacceptable. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has already met with White House officials and Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue.

SHURTLEFF: The first reaction I get from all of them on the waiver issue is, you can't do that. And I said look, we recognize you are the federal authority on this but we are one state who rather than immediately passing bills and putting them into effect [that] we're going to be in litgation with you, we're looking for a way to work with you.

GOP delegates had pressured Herbert to veto the guest worker bill, arguing that it offers amnesty to people who live here illegally. Herbert objected to that characterization today, saying ICE or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will still enforce the law.

HERBERT: The guest worker permit by the way, is not a get out of jail free card. The federal government still has responsibility for naturalization and for deportation and those kinds of things. And even if you had a guest worker permit in Utah, if ICE has got you in their sights for whatever reason, they will have the ability in fact, to enforce the laws and deport people as they see fit.

Another law allows police to check the legal status on anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor. Earlier this month, some of the state's Latinos rallied to oppose the immigration package's enforcement measures. Here's a woman named Clara, who declined to give her last name.


She says not everyone who comes to this country does bad things most come to help. She said nothing is ever said about the good work Hispanics do. Herbert addressed critics of enforcement measures today, by saying that the police bill has protections in that it only targets those stopped for serious crimes.

HERBERT: It has nothing to do with ethnicity, it has nothing to do with color of skin, and it's only trigged by an event that occurs where law enforcement is then is asked to follow up on some additional steps.

Herbert said there will be criticism about some elements of the package. But he said, the bill has broad-based support around the state. Influential players such as the Salt Lake Chamber lobbied heavily for the guest worker bill. And, today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints --spoke in a public forum the first time in support of a comprehensive approach to immigration. Here's LDS Presiding Bishop David Burton:

BURTON: We feel that the legislature has done a credible job on a very complex issue. Our presence here testifies to the fact that we are appreciative of what has happened in the legislature.

Meanwhile, two other immigration bills became law. One sets up a program to sponsor immigrants and the other creates a partnership between Utah and the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to bring temporary farm workers to Utah.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.