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Guest-worker bill encounters more resistance

Published June 6, 2011 12:27 pm

Immigration • One group pitches a new plan; more delegates vote to repeal guest-worker bill.
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A controversial guest-worker bill took two hits this weekend as Republican delegates in Washington County voted in favor of a resolution to repeal it while another group floated a proposal to gut the measure with a substitute version for the next legislative session.

The voice vote among Washington County Republican delegates came Saturday, and it marked another win for the resolution that has already passed in Utah County and Salt Lake County. The resolution suffered earlier defeats in Davis County and Weber County and is set to be voted on at the Republican state convention on June 18.

"We have seen the momentum shift our way," said Brandon Beckham, who has helped spearhead the anti-HB116 movement.

Before the vote, Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration co-founder Ron Mortensen helped write a substitute for HB116 to be proposed by a yet-to-be-named lawmaker in January, titled "The Utah Illegal Alien Family Transition Pilot program."

He said it has been endorsed by some of the harshest critics of the guest-worker bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert in March. Among those on board with the working document are the Utah Minutemen and Utahns For Immigration Reform and Enforcement.

Mortensen said the proposed substitute would feature stiffer fines than what HB116 has in place for undocumented immigrants in Utah, and it also would require those who qualified for the program to leave the United States and apply for a visa through the federal government.

Unlike HB116, which doesn't take effect until July 2013, Mortensen said his version wouldn't take effect until there was congressional approval.

"That way, we avoid federal lawsuits," he said. "You have to do it this way, otherwise you end up in court."

He said the program is limited in scope and would only apply to qualified families with American-born children or with foreign national children who have lived in the United States for an extended period of time. However, the foreign-born child would had to have arrived in the country before the age of 8 and been in the country for five years.

An American-born child, he said, would had to have been here at least five years in order to qualify.

Mortensen also said that faith-based groups and employers who want undocumented workers to be granted re-entry into the United States would be the ones to help pay the fines and cover the costs for that person and their family during their time outside of the country.

"Critics keep saying we think HB116 is a bad bill and that we have no solutions," Mortensen said. "What we're saying is, if you want something serious, here is a way to do it."

Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce — which supported HB116 — said that bill was a balanced approach.

"We understand there will be enhancements to the legislation as we go forward," Carpenter said. "We welcome input that adheres to the principles of The Utah Compact without retreating from the significant progress we have made as a state toward a workable solution."

The guest-worker bill, which was carried by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, would allow the state of Utah to issue work visas and subject applicants to a background check, as well as fines of $1,000 for an overstayed visa and $2,500 for coming into the country illegally.

It passed in the Utah House of Representatives 41-32 and in the state Senate 19-5, and was supported by leadership in both bodies, including House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has been in talks with the federal government about allowing Utah to operate HB116, but no agreement has been reached.

Mortensen said it was uncertain as to who would carry the substitute proposal forward, though he mentioned possibilities could include Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, and Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem.


Twitter: @davemontero






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