Under fire » Opponents say such a law would lead to legalized racial profiling.
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As protests in Arizona over an anti-immigration law heat up, one conservative Utah lawmaker wants to bring the law to this state, and says he has the support to do it.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, is drafting a bill that would require immigrants to carry proof of status and require law enforcement officers to question anyone they believe is in the country without documentation. The bill also would target employers who hire or transport undocumented immigrants as a preventive measure against the swell of undocumented immigrants he predicts would come to Utah from Arizona once the law there takes effect.
"Utah is seen as state that welcomes illegal immigrants. We almost encourage it with driving privilege cards and in-state tuition for illegals," Sandstrom said. "With Arizona making the first step in this direction, Utah needs to pass a similar law or we will see a huge influx of illegals. The real issue is just establishing a rule of law in our state."
Sandstrom says his constituents and other Utahns support the bill as a states' rights issue, saying the federal government has chosen to ignore immigration law.
Gov. Gary Herbert says while he won't comment on legislation that hasn't been drafted yet, he does "understand the interest in addressing illegal immigration and its impact on individual states, particularly in light of the federal government's inaction on the issue," said his spokeswoman, Angie Welling. "His commitment is that he will do so in a reasonable and collaborative manner."
But others say the bill proposed by Sandstrom would be fundamentally unconstitutional, and that Arizona's law likely will have several legal challenges.
"The bill would go so far beyond what Utahns would expect what we would have in the United States of America," said Karen McCreary, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. "As Utahns, we really need to step back and see what this means for this state. I believe the people of this state hold more closely the values of liberty and justice for all than what this bill would be suggesting or enacting."
Part of that worry would be essentially legalized racial profiling.
"There have been undocumented people from every country in this world in the United States for a long time, and you've never seen any kind of legislation targeting them," said Frank Cordova, president of Centro Civico Mexicano. "This bill targets all brown people in Utah."
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, who opted to have his department not enforce Utah's immigration law SB81, said having to enforce the law proposed by Sandstrom "sets law enforcement back 30 or 40 years because it hearkens back to the days of 'Driving While Black.' "
"For the 200-plus years this country has been in existence, we have struggled with the idea that all people are created equal. At times we have made significant mistakes in following that idea, and laws like this follow that same mistaken path that we should have learned long ago," Burbank said.
Sandstrom, though, says he doesn't see how this bill could lead to racial profiling because it would not be directed at one specific ethnic group.
And enforcing a law such as this is what is needed to curtail problems such as identity theft in the state, where 16 percent of identity theft is stolen Social Security numbers used to illegally obtain a job , said Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration.
He says police shouldn't ignore felonies such as identity theft simply to gain the trust of the undocumented population.
"I think the price might be too high," Mortensen said.
He and Sandstrom both want to stop any influx of undocumented immigrants by making SB251, a bill that requires employers to use E-Verify, mandatory in the first year instead of voluntary. Sandstrom also is looking into drafting his bill to supersede laws that grant rights to undocumented immigrants -- including granting in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants and driving privilege cards.
The fight against in-state tuition has gone on since the law was originally passed in 2002, and has failed each year.
"Not educating them doesn't mean they're going to turn around and go back to wherever they came from," said Matt Bradley, a member of the Magpie Collective, which was formed in opposition to the conservative Eagle Forum. "But it's almost a moot point to start to worrying about in-state tuition, which affects about 300 kids. Every single brown person in this state would be affected [by Sandstrom's proposed legislation], and as much as they think racial profiling doesn't happen, it does."
» Requires immigrants to carry papers proving their status
» Requires law enforcement to question anyone they believe is in the country without documentation
» Cracks down on employers who hire or transport undocumented immigrants