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Believing that Congress will pass some version of comprehensive immigration, the Utah Senate on Wednesday passed a measure delaying by two years the effective date of the state's guest worker law.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, carried SB225, which easily won passage in a 22-3 vote.
Bramble said he was encouraged by actions out of Congress and believed Utah was key to pushing the issue. "The fact that we were able to pass a comprehensive immigration proposal has helped moved the dial," he said.
Bramble's bill delays this year's July 1 effective date of HB116, which was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in 2011. It would allow undocumented immigrants already living in the state to apply for a state-based guest worker visa after passing a series of background checks, paying a fine of either $1,000 or $2,500 and taking some English-proficiency courses. It was signed along with a series of other immigration bills including an enforcement-only law that is currently tied up in federal court.
It closely mirrors what is being proposed by President Barack Obama at the national level. It was also viewed by many as the legislative spirit of the Utah Compact a series of principles that sought a compassionate approach to illegal immigration. Since the compact was signed in 2010, several states have signed similar measures, including Texas, Indiana and Maine.
But some who opposed the original guest worker law attempted to amend Bamble's bill.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, pushed an amendment Tuesday to wait until all legal immigrants who wanted to come to the United States could clear the process first before dealing with the undocumented immigrant population which the Pew Hispanic Center estimates stands at about 11 million.
Madsen's amendment failed on a voice vote.
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said pushing back the trigger date on HB116 was prudent given the $6 million price tag to put the law into effect. She also said she was encouraged that Congress would take up comprehensive reform.
"This Congress is different due to the elections," Robles said, noting the impact of the Latino vote that helped propel Obama to victory in November and the soul-searching that has hit the Republican party after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost that voter bloc by an almost 3-to-1 margin.
One of the guest worker law's biggest critics, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, voted to delay the start date and said he saw little value in a "rehash" of the debate over HB116.
"I lost the argument. Those things happen," Urquhart said. "In my mind, to me, if there aren't other options out there, it doesn't make sense to move headlong into a lawsuit ... that we know will be unsuccessful."
When HB116 was passed, legislative lawyers said there were issues with the constitutionality of the guest worker law and critics including the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that immigration is strictly the purview of the federal government.
SB225 now moves to the House.