Sen. Luz Robles picked up a Republican to sponsor her immigration bill in the House on Tuesday, giving her proposal the sought-after endorsement of an elected conservative who called the legislation "a fair approach to the issue."
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, has been in talks with Robles and other supporters of her bill prior to the beginning of the legislative session and said it was the only immigration bill that seemed to tackle "the broad spectrum" of the issue.
"It balances public safety with not harming those of goodwill in our community," Peterson said. "It's that balancing act and this bill does that."
Robles, D-Salt Lake City, praised Peterson, saying he was "smart and pragmatic" and "he acknowledges a reality" that undocumented people as many as 110,000, according to Pew Hispanic Center data released Tuesday live in Utah.
Robles has submitted her bill, but it is awaiting a fiscal note and hasn't been assigned to a committee yet. She said, however, there would be a fee attached to obtaining an identification card and that it would be priced so it would increase revenue instead of simply breaking even.
Her proposal also endorsed by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank would require those undocumented people living in Utah for longer than two years to get what she called a "Type A" card that registers them in a system set up by the Department of Public Safety. It also would require those getting the cards to pass background checks in order to qualify.
Robles said those living in Utah illegally would have a year to get the cards, and she believed 90 percent of those in the state would participate. She also said that those who didn't get the card would be opening themselves up to "reasonable suspicion" because they may have something to hide.
"This bill allows us to put our resources and our law enforcement agencies to fight the criminal element," she said.
But her bill has been criticized because it would need a federal waiver to get around existing visa and guest-worker laws because, as a state, Utah doesn't have the right to allow employers to hire those in the country illegally.
"The waiver doesn't deal with the adjustment of immigration status," Robles said. "It doesn't change anyone from documented to a legal permanent resident."
But Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said bills that seek federal waivers are essentially dead.
Dimitri Moumoulidis, executive director of the Democratic Lawyers Council, said Peterson was a good choice to carry the bill in the House because "he isn't tainted like some of the folks on the right."
Peterson tackled the issue of immigration in his campaign explaining on his website that he believed "the majority ... of these individuals come seeking a better life for themselves with the goal of working to earn for their families."
Peterson, a Realtor who also restores homes, said he thought the Robles bill was "a better approach" than the enforcement-only bill authored by Sandstrom initially modeled after Arizona's enforcement-only bill currently tied up in federal court.
Peterson said it wasn't a difficult choice to pair up with Robles on the legislation.
"I'm not a bitterly partisan person," Peterson said. "I look at things on their merit."
The proposed legislation would:
• Require individuals to present photographic document if subject to a lawful stop, detention or arrest by a law enforcement officer.
• Require fingerprinting and photographing under certain circumstances.
• Require establishment of a database.
• Require the governor to petition necessary waivers, exemptions or authority to implement the program.
• Require workers to carry permits at all times.