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The new law will allow local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws and forces some employers to verify the U.S. documentation status of their workers. It goes into effect July 2009.
"It's a good step forward on addressing immigration," said Lisa Roskelley, a spokeswoman for Huntsman.
Earlier in the legislative session, Huntsman had said he didn't believe states should be passing immigration laws to deal with a federal issue. Roskelley said Huntsman changed his mind on the issue because he's hopeful the illegal immigration problem will be resolved by Congress and a new administration in early 2009 before the Utah law goes into effect.
Antonella Romero Packard, a Republican and Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force spokeswoman, said she isn't surprised Huntsman signed SB81, but she can't believe lawmakers passed such a detrimental law that affects so many Utahns - legal and illegal - without studying its repercussions on the state. The people it will affect the most are people who don't look white and will have to justify they live in Utah legally, even though many were even born here, she said.
"I'm disappointed," Packard said. "I don't think [Huntsman] understands the implications of it."
Supporters of the law had said it was a good start but a compromise, especially pushing back the effective date more than a year.
The law will force public employers and their contractors to verify the legal status of workers, and enlist local law enforcement agencies to help enforce federal immigration statutes. It will also be a Class A misdemeanor to conceal, harbor, transport or shelter undocumented immigrants, though church, charitable and humanitarian assistance groups are exempted.