Immigration: Utah wants world to know it's no Arizona
Immigration • To duck "mean-spirited" image, legislators softened bill.
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Now that state lawmakers have passed an enforcement-only immigration bill and sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert, the tricky task of convincing the rest of America that Utah didn't just go down Arizona's path begins.

The Legislature did its best to distance itself from Arizona's SB1070 in the past week — requiring Rep. Stephen Sandstrom to drop HB70, the enforcement-only immigration bill he'd worked on for 10 months, give it a new title and a new number and scrap "objectionable language" that could suggest the state tacitly endorsed racial profiling.

Key lawmakers also brokered a deal to couple the revised enforcement measure, HB497, with a guest-worker bill, HB116, so that Utah's approach would be more comprehensive and less punitive.

But whether these distinctions are too subtle for recognition outside the state remains to be seen.

Utah lawmakers and leaders have been doing pretty much what they should have to this point, but there's lots of work ahead, said William Crookston, a professor of entrepreneurship and marketing, and a branding expert at the University of Southern California.

His advice?

"Do something quickly. These kinds of things without action don't get better with time," Crookston said. "Come out with the reasons why you passed the bill — that the federal government hasn't been doing its job — and get a panel of people from all areas to say that."

Arizona made a key mistake in not protecting its brand and image when SB1070 came down, he said. Gov. Jan Brewer and state Sen. Russell Pearce "mandated" the immigration-enforcement law without getting buy-in and voices from groups that might be able to explain to the nation why they passed it. He said getting principals — even those who opposed it — on board to explain why they passed it is critical.

Big difference • In Sandstrom's mind, the gulf between what Utah is proposing and what Arizona passed is, well, wider than Arizona's iconic Grand Canyon.

"What Utah is doing is very pragmatic," Sandstrom said. "Senator Pearce is a friend of mine, but he's taken things a bit farther than me. I want to stay away from things that appear mean-spirited."

So, in order to get buy-in from skeptics — including Senate leaders — Sandstrom's original enforcement bill underwent major renovation in recent days.

Scratched were the words "reasonable suspicion" to describe the standard for local police to check the legal status of people detained. Also struck was the so-called "papers please" portion that would have required people to carry ID on them at all times. The change allows residents simply to tell officers their name or address to verify who they are. And the revised version makes it an option — not a requirement — for law enforcement to the check legal status of a person accused of a class B or C misdemeanor or traffic infraction.

But can the new HB497 — the Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act — shed the stigma of Sandstrom's old HB70, "the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act"?

Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah think tank, isn't at all sure. As one of the Republicans leading the charge against the enforcement-only bill, Mero said it would have been wiser to pull Sandstrom's name off of the bill when it was renumbered and reworked because it's too short of a journey from Arizona firebrand Pearce to Sandstrom.

"I don't think it changes the perception at all unless you change the sponsor," Mero said. "The sponsor of the bill is the same person who spoke at Russell Pearce rallies back in May."

Image matters • Image is important to all states and no less to Utah, world headquarters to the 14-million-plus member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church's modern growth has been fueled by millions of converts in Latin America and Latino communities in the United States.

Utah also relies heavily on tourism and ski dollars, and the home of the Sundance Film Festival is making a pitch to bring more film projects to the state through increased tax breaks and incentives.

Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said Utah is differentiating itself from Arizona by passing both a guest-worker bill and the enforcement-only bill. By doing that, he said, the state has shown it isn't one-dimensional and punitive like Arizona.

"We were only comfortable with it passing as part of a larger package," Carpenter said. "We were only comfortable with enforcement going along with a guest-worker program and creating an environment for all productive members of our society to participate fully."

Gov. Gary Herbert said distancing Utah from Arizona won't be extraordinarily difficult because he believes the legislation passed late Friday and awaiting his signature is distinctive.

"Obviously, as the chief cheerleader of the state, I care about image, I care about the perception people have about Utah," Herbert said. "The image issue is certainly one that is worth considering, and I think [Sandstrom's] name on it is fine. I think that has no impact really negative on our state at all."

Robert Gehrke contributed to this story. dmontero@sltrib.com