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Union members and contractors argued Monday before the Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration that state lawmakers should to take up and pass a mandatory employee-verification system when the Legislature convenes in January.

But Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said he didn't think the Legislature would take up E-Verify to screen out illegal immigrants.

"I don't think there is an appetite for it," he said.

And Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, said he hadn't heard any discussions among fellow lawmakers about the introduction of an E-Verify bill.

The 27-member commission was created by the Legislature in 2010 to make recommendations to lawmakers on bills concerning immigration reform. This was the commission's fourth meeting.

Herrod, who unsuccessfully carried an E-Verify bill two sessions ago and won't be a part of the new Legislature in January after losing his bid for the U.S. Senate, argued before the commission that employers luring workers across the border with cheap wages was a key reason why Utah battles illegal immigration.

Currently, Utah has an E-Verify law on the books, but it has no penalties for businesses that don't comply. E-Verify is a federal verification system that checks the legal status of a person's right to work in the United States.

Richard Carr, representing bricklayers and tile setters in Salt Lake City, said workers who don't have the legal right to work in the country are being exploited by employers who don't pay a living wage.

"If we're going to bring more people into the country, we need to protect them," Carr said.

Several witnesses who testified before the board used personal experiences to explain their desire for tougher immigration enforcement.

But Commissioner Paul Mero, who is president of the non-profit Sutherland Institute, pressed them with questions that appeared to undermine their cases.

Carr — who claimed his brother-in-law lost his job — ultimately admitted he wasn't certain if the job had been lost to an illegal immigrant. And John Bowers, who testified his son had been killed by a drunk driver, said he couldn't be sure that the motorist was in the country illegally.

Mero said the meeting seemed like an opportunity for the anti-illegal immigration advocates to have their case heard before the commission and get it to move on recommendations that hewed closer to a hard-line stance.

"I don't think we should be passing laws based on anecdotes," Mero said.

The commission didn't issue any recommendations Monday, but it did vote unanimously to form a subcommittee to solicit and gather data for the commission to review.

Twitter: @davemontero

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