This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The two chambers of the Utah Legislature are chasing immigration reform down separate tracks, but most bills lead to the same destination: Nowhere.
That's because federal law pre-empts state law on immigration, which means that much of what the Utah Legislature is likely to enact would probably be struck down in federal court.
Nevertheless, state lawmakers, egged on by tea party reformers, are intent on sending a message to Congress. The message is that Utahns are beside themselves with anger about the federal government's failure to repair the broken immigration system. As one senator put it, in Utah-appropriate language, "We're mad as heck."
Utah's legislators are right, of course, about federal failure. Congress should reform the immigration system to conform with economic reality and enhance national security. By passing state immigration enforcement laws, even unconstitutional ones, the Legislature will send that letter resoundingly to Congress.
Yet Utah lawmakers also are wary of sending another, different signal simultaneously. They don't want Utah lumped with Arizona as a state that appears racist. That's the rap that Arizona lawmakers brought on their state when they passed immigration enforcement laws.
This concern explains the deal imposed by Senate leadership on Rep. Stephen Sandstrom to remove language about "reasonable suspicion" from his "enforcement only" bill. "Reasonable suspicion" could open the door to racial profiling, although under the bill, the failure of a stopped person to produce official identification would be the trigger for an officer to attempt to verify immigration status.
It also explains why the Senate has assigned Sen. Curtis Bramble the delicate task of cobbling together an omnibus bill that combines a series of House proposals including heightened police enforcement, a guest worker program, employee verification and tougher standards for the undocumented children of illegal aliens to receive in-state tuition. The House has passed each of these bills separately. Senate leaders appear to worry that if only an enforcement crackdown is passed, without a companion guest worker law, Utah will look too much like Arizona.
But with the exception of a new bill that would create a migrant worker pilot program with a state in Mexico and comply with federal law, this whole exercise is mostly political theater. Instead of rallying at the State Capitol, Utahns concerned about illegal immigration should be banging down the doors of Congress.