When the Utah Legislature convenes today, lawmakers will be facing more than a dozen measures related to immigration, the highest number of bills ever brought forward on the issue.
With almost every state passing immigration legislation, many Utah lawmakers say they are frustrated and being forced to solve immigration problems at the state level because Congress and the federal government are failing to do so.
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, says today more than ever, Utahns are calling him and other state lawmakers demanding that they do something to curb illegal immigration.
"We need to respond to the demands of the people who elected us," he says.
Several of the proposed bills were still being drafted and had not been made public as of Friday. But community members are eager to see one of them: a comprehensive anti-illegal immigration bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George. It will mirror Oklahoma's new controversial "Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007," which forces public employers and their contractors to verify employees' immigration status and allows state and local law enforcement officers to perform certain functions of a U.S. immigration agent.
"It's in the process of changes and fine tuning and drafting," Hickman says.
A new proposal - sponsored by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City - would create an immigration task force made up of lawmakers to review and make recommendations.
"Why pass a bunch of stuff you don't need to?" Jenkins asks. "I'd like to slow this down and study it, so we don't do anything inappropriate."
There are at least seven recurring bills, from a measure to repeal the Utah law that allows eligible undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition to allowing law enforcement agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As of November of last year, some 1,600 measures related to immigration had been introduced in state legislatures nationwide. Of these bills, 244 - 16 percent - became law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Mariana Baginsky Lowe, an American Civil Liberties Union of Utah spokeswoman, declined comment on specific state measures, but says that the ACLU "is concerned that the passage of immigration legislation . . . will bring about an increase in racial profiling."
Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, says he's not sure if he's going to introduce more measures, but he's ready to push through the four recurring immigration bills that he's sponsoring.
"Every session I start upbeat," he says. "You have to have an upbeat attitude or else you'll sink in this game."
In his fifth consecutive attempt to kill the 2002 in-state college tuition law, Donnelson says he's not giving up on it because undocumented students are breaking the law by staying in Utah and getting a college degree. In the 2007 session, the repeal died just shy of one vote in the House.
In the 2006-2007 school year, about 280 undocumented students at Utah's nine public colleges and universities paid in-state tuition - one-third of them attending Salt Lake Community College. That's an increase of about a 100 students from the previous year.
Ironically, the Oklahoma bill includes a provision that allows undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition.
Donnelson also wants to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to get a driving privilege card, saying such a form of identification is a benefit that they don't deserve.
The state last year issued about 41,000 driving privilege cards across Utah, a State Department of Public Safety official says. There are an estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Utah.
And Donnelson is sponsoring another bill again that would let law enforcement officers act as immigration agents on routine traffic stops under an ICE-law enforcement agreement. Last year, the bill passed the House and died in the Senate.
"There's not enough ICE people around here to do their job effectively," Donnelson says.
Valentine says he has no idea at this point how a vote would go on repealing the in-state tuition law, but he doesn't think the driving privilege card should be axed.
"It shouldn't be repealed; it's working in Utah," he says.
As for the ICE-law enforcement bill, Valentine said he supports it and it would be a great investment for the state to help crack down on crime.
"It makes sense," he says. "It works fairly for both sides."
Anti-illegal immigration activists and immigrant advocates say their groups are ready to lobby hard this session.
Eli Cawley, Utah Minuteman Project spokesman, says Utah is a sanctuary state and a magnet for "illegal aliens" because there is no enforcement of law. An anti-illegal immigration rally organized by the group is scheduled today at the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to pass laws that will drive out undocumented immigrants and "protect our citizens," Cawley says. He says it's sad that the Latino community has to deal with the consequences of illegal immigration - but notes that those are the people who don't have documents.
"If I see someone with 'brown skin' and has an accent . . .I think they're illegal," he says. "I'm forced to discriminate."
Cawley says if he had to advocate only one immigration bill, it would be the proposal to allow the agreements between ICE and law enforcement agencies. It would make it appear as if "Utah is cracking down on illegal aliens," he says.
Antonella Romero Packard, the Republican co-chairwo- man of the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, said the abundance of Utah proposals is a "sad situation" and fears that it will divide the Latino and non-Latino communities.
Even though not all undocumented immigrants are Latino, Packard said the task force plans to do what it can to fight most of the bills, especially in-state college tuition and the ICE-law enforcement agreements. She said she hopes that Utah Latinos stay informed and are more visible during the session this year. "I think we'll start seeing more involvement . . . and people tracking this legislative activity more closely," Packard says.
Taking on immigration
Immigration bills at the 2008 Utah Legislature
Would create an immigration task force made up of 11 lawmakers to review and make recommendations on current and proposed federal and state laws and policies that relate to illegal immigration. Report would be due late this year.
Sponsor: Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City
Would repeal a law that allows eligible undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition at state universities and colleges. Those students who register for school before May 1, 2008 would be exempt.
Sponsor: Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden
Would allow state or local law enforcement officers to perform certain functions of a U.S. immigration agent, such as arrest undocumented immigrants.
Would repeal a law that allows undocumented immigrants to get a driving privilege card. All driving privilege cards also would expire this year.
Would force employers to verify the immigration status of all workers using a free federal system online.
Would mandate that the state seek reimbursement from the federal government for costs that have to do with illegal immigration.
Sponsor: Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights
Would prohibit a person from using or providing false documents to establish U.S. legal status.
Would require employers with state contracts or incentives to run workers' information through the federal employee verification program
Sponsor: Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Provo.
Bills still in Process
Sponsor: Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George
Citizenship Determination of Incarcerated Individuals.
Would mandate that local and state law enforcement determine the immigration status of anyone who is arrested and taken into custody.
Employee and Employer Obligations Related to Workers' Compensation.
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork
Human Trafficking Amendments.
Sponsor: Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo
Concurrent Resolution Calling for Congress to Pass Balanced Immigration Reform.
Sponsor: Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper
Compiled by Jennifer W. Sanchez
Lawmakers return to the state Capitol today to open the 57th session of the Utah Legislature. The 104 legislators will allocate nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money as they try to address the state's priorities on education, health care, taxes and a slew of other proposals, from protecting pets to splitting Utah into two states. It also may mark the last time that the annual session opens on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.