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Sen. Curt Bramble calls it a "very frustrating bureaucratic situation."
His new SB184 becomes law Wednesday, and was supposed to begin more robust background checks on undocumented immigrants who seek "driving privilege" cards designed to find anyone who has outstanding criminal arrest warrants and report them to federal immigration officials.
But the FBI is blocking that provision. It will not allow Utah to use the FBI criminal database as long as it plans to share results with any other agency even if it is with a fellow federal agency like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"Its policy does not allow that," said Dwayne Baird, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety. "Based on that, the FBI said we could not use its data base."
"Doesn't that seem absurd?" said bill sponsor Bramble, R-Provo. "You get information from the federal government that says a person is a criminal and you can't give that information back to the federal government so that it can do its job and enforce the law."
So for now, Utah will stick with its old system of simply doing background checks regionally among a compact of nine Western states although Bramble is looking at changes to allow national background checks.
Utah will also halt plans for now that would have raised the annual fee for driving privilege cards from $80 to $109.50 to pay for the extra background check, and will not require applicants to provide extra fingerprints and photos for them, said Driver License Division Director Nannette Rolfe.
State officials had requested the bill, Bramble said, because the current regional checks had failed to catch one applicant who was wanted for the murder of two law enforcement officers in California.
The senator said he and other state officials are looking at changes that might allow use of the FBI database.
For example, he is exploring whether Utah could simply tell ICE that someone was denied a driving privilege card which may allow ICE to do its own FBI background check and then seek that person.
He is also exploring perhaps allowing the same thing with the Utah Department of Public Safety, to allow it to pick up such people with outstanding warrants.
Bramble said he might push to have such changes considered during a special session of the Legislature later this year.
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said Latino leaders have supported background checks to catch any dangerous criminals who may be seeking driving privilege cards.
But he notes that undocumented residents must pay $80 every year to renew their cards, while other residents are required to renew only every five years. Also, he said the proposal to raise fees to $109.50 a year seemed excessive.
"If any other Utahns had to pay $109 a year to drive," he said, "they would be screaming."
Bramble passed legislation to create the driving privilege card in 2005 to help ensure that undocumented immigrants have auto insurance and pass driving tests.
Utah issued 32,232 driving privilege cards last year. The number has declined in recent years from a peak of about 43,000 in 2008 when the recession hit full force and immigration declined.