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West Valley City • The hot-button issue of immigration has reached the City Council — again.

Last year, two council members informally suggested at a study meeting that the city be required to verify that applicants for business licenses are citizens or legal residents. The discussion did not lead to any action.

Now a group of residents is proposing an ordinance that would require businesses to check the legal status of their employees and impose sanctions on those who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The checks would be made by running workers' names through the E-Verify database.

Even though the City Council has yet to put the subject on its agenda, a battle over it already has started. Opponents and supporters, including two from Utah County, attended a July 26 meeting to describe their side of the issue.

West Valley City resident Christopher J. Lovato told council members during the meeting's comment period that E-Verify is "one step closer to a national ID system."

And, he said, history shows that a national ID system can be used for good or bad, a huge risk to take. "E-Verify is not something to trifle with," Lovato said.

Samuel Rangel of Salt Lake City argued that more restrictions would harm free markets.

"I don't believe that businesses should be immigration offices where they register everyone," he said. "I do believe that something needs to happen about immigration, but unfortunately it's not at the city level."

Russell Sias, of Provo, countered that the proposed ordinance would just enforce existing laws. He said there is no legal problem with the measure because it is similar to an Arizona law that was upheld this spring by the U.S. Supreme Court.

He also sees no privacy problem, saying that E-Verify uses a Social Security database.

The proposed ordinance — submitted a few weeks ago by ironworker Matthew Bell and seven other West Valley City residents — would require employers in the city to use E-Verify to determine the legal status of their workers and would suspend their business license on a first offense and permanently revoke it on a second offense.

It is patterned after a proposed county ballot measure that targets HB116, a guest-worker bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert that levies fines against undocumented workers and requires them to pass background checks before being allowed to legally live and work in Utah. Former U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook is leading the drive to get that measure on county ballots.

At the West Valley meeting, Bell said undocumented immigrants are taking jobs from citizens and being exploited by unscrupulous employers who hire them for a pittance.

"They take the place of American citizens and legal immigrants who obey and honor and sustain the law," Bell said.

The West Valley City Attorney's Office is reviewing Bell's proposal. The next step would be for City Council members to decide if they want to formally consider the ordinance. If the measure goes forward, the city would schedule public hearings on it.