This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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 Utah Legislature has passed House Bill 116 which, among other provisions, establishes a program for undocumented immigrants to obtain a work permit from the Utah Department of Public Safety after paying a $2,500 fine.
It is curious that so much time, effort and money have been put into this bill when these work permits will have no legal effect. They will not allow re-entry into the U.S. at the border or port of entry, prevent an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent from arresting and detaining someone or stop an immigration judge from deporting a permit holder.
So what, then, do these permits accomplish? They lull the immigrants into a false sense of security leading to their removal from the United States. If these permits are issued, then HB116 is nothing more than a veiled use of trickery to deport individuals and families.
Rep. Chris Herrod of Provo opposed this bill as "pure and simple amnesty." However, amnesty in terms of immigration suggests that lawful immigration status is conferred upon an individual despite a previous violation of the law. These work permits will not provide any type of lawful immigration status and thus cannot be characterized as a form of amnesty.
This concept, that a work permit does not equal lawful immigration status, is misunderstood by many. In my practice as an immigration attorney, many clients have come to me after having sought legal services by non-lawyers who have found ways in which their clients can receive temporary work authorization cards from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. But these work permits, although issued by the federal immigration service, do not confer any immigration status. They are merely issued while some immigration applications are pending but not yet approved, regardless of whether the case has merit.
The immigrants do not understand this confusing concept and are thus misled into believing that they have been given permission to remain in the United States lawfully. Lawyers like me are left to clean up the mess created by the deceit of these non-lawyers in the broken lives of their former clients.
If individuals are easily misled into believing that they have a form of lawful immigration status by non-lawyers posing as attorneys, how much more deceived will they be when it is the State of Utah promulgating the deception instead?
Utah will provide false hope to these individuals and families, while simultaneously, and unknown to the immigrants, set in motion their deportation. Anyone who has lawful immigration status will not need a Utah state work permit; they likely have work authorization incident to their immigration status. So the only people who will apply for the state work permit will be undocumented immigrants. And in applying, they will effectively register as such.
Since these permits afford no legal effect to prevent deportation, it is highly likely that these individuals and families will shortly thereafter be placed into federal removal proceedings and subsequently removed from the United States.
Some people in Utah would like to deport many, if not all, of the undocumented immigrants in the state, and a few might advocate doing so "by any means necessary." One unnecessary means is by deceit and trickery, especially when advertised by the state itself. Such deceit is contrary to the principles of fairness, justice and due process upon which our nation was founded.
Immigration enforcement, just like all areas of life, should be accomplished by honest, truthful and virtuous measures. But at the very least, the immigrants and their families should not have to pay $2,500 each to be swindled by the state.
Travis Olsen is staff attorney for the Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services in Baltimore, Md., and a Brigham Young University alumnus.