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Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Friday at a public forum that the proposed bill by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom targeting illegal immigration "can't be fixed" entirely to comply with the U.S. Constitution and urged lawmakers to avoid Arizona's legal difficulties.
However, he cautioned, in absence of alternatives, he expected the Sandstrom bill would obtain easy passage.
"The Legislature has to have something other than to 'just say no' to the Sandstrom bill," Shurtleff said. "There have to be proposals that are legal and constitutional to deal with the issue."
Shurtleff joined four other panelists at the Salt Lake City Main Library to discuss, rather than debate, the issue before a crowd of about 200. That largely kept the decibel level for the loudest debate in politics at a more library-like volume for about 90 minutes.
But had Ron Mortensen, spokesman for the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, been there, it might have gotten more heated.
"He is constantly taking every liberal interpretation of bills," Mortensen said. "He is consistently working against the interest of the people, I would say. He is doing everything in his power to prevent any laws that would address the illegal immigration problem."
Moderated by KCPW Radio News Director Jeff Robinson, the five panelists agreed on most of the well-worn discussion items: It's a federal problem, that cobbling together a patchwork of state laws won't work and that the system is broken.
Former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said as frustration mounts against Washington, D.C., states will continue to tackle the issue and, in that vein, he encouraged them to be "thoughtful" in their approach.
"The states should be testing grounds, but they should be applying pressure on the federal government to act," he said. "It's still a federal law and the supremacy clause has effect."
Much of the focus was on the Arizona bill signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year. The panel roundly decried using state and local law enforcement officers as federal agents attempting to round up and deport illegal immigrants, as the Arizona law dictates.
Cecilia Wang, managing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said such a practice leads to racial profiling. "There is no way you can distinguish between people who are here legally or illegally. ... Everyone here has a right to be free of unreasonable government interference."
Aaron Tarin, an immigration lawyer, and Charlie Morgan, a sociology professor at Brigham Young University, also took part in the panel discussion.