Legislators are careening like decapitated chickens, voting for enforcement bills one week and flip-flopping to vote for amnesty bills the next. Some legislators presenting enforcement bills have been accosted by other legislators seeking to gut those bills by substituting pro-amnesty text for the original enforcement text. Through all these schizophrenic votes and political contortions, the Legislature is creating a splattered mess of contradictory immigration legislation. What does this nonsense mean for the people of Utah? It means that the House and Senate will likely have to abridge all of this disparate legislation in a compromise committee, and instead of a gaining few well-placed laws we will likely end up with a jumble of legislation that is about as complimentary as mismatched socks.
Let’s attempt to summarize the time line on a few immigration bills:
Last Friday, the House passed Representative Sandstrom’s HB70 Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act. On Tuesday, the House passed Representative Herrod’s HB253 Employment of Unauthorized Aliens bill, which requires employers with 15 or more employees to use E-Verify (or a comparable system) to verify eligibility to work. Also on Tuesday, Representative Wimmer’s HB191 Nonresident Tuition Waver Amendments passed committee – the bill would repeal in-state college tuition benefits for illegal immigrants.
It was a good week for enforcement legislation. Then the legislature did a 180.
Yesterday, the House passed Representative Wright’s HB116 Guest Worker Program Act – a bill that would have Utah ignore existing federal guest worker programs and instead create its own guest worker program for illegal immigrants (with no legal protection for workers or employers, because a state-run program is illegal to begin with). On the same day, a Senate committee approved another guest worker program, SB60 Pilot Accountability and Permit Program, sponsored by Senator Robles.
In the meantime, legislators with opposing viewpoints are attempting to gut two enforcement bills — Representative Wright attempted to hijack Representative Wimmer’s HB191 repeal of in-state tuition (an unlawful program that’s been on Utah’s books for approximately 9 years) by axing the repeal and reinstating the benefit, with a requirement that students must prove their parent or guardian paid income tax during the prior year. The bill has been circled in the House to await further action. Senator Urquhart’s SB138 Driver License Qualification Amendments is a bill that takes a swing at expiring the driving privilege card Utah issues to illegal immigrants; Senator Bramble is attempting to negate the expiration request, substituting it with a fingerprint requirement for illegal immigrants who receive driving privilege cards. That bill is also circled, in the Senate, waiting to see how this game plays out.
But wait, there’s more. Today, Senator Bramble announced a comprehensive immigration reform bill he is preparing: SB288 Utah Immigration and Enforcement Amendments (though he just calls it the “Utah Compact Bill”).
In an attempt to salvage immigration enforcement, Representative Sandstrom has announced his own guest worker bill, HB466, which he plans to release to the public any day. Sandstrom said the bill would apply only to foreign workers seeking work from their home countries, not those already here illegally. Utah businesses requesting foreign workers would have to prove that no U.S. citizens will take the jobs, and the existing federal visa program would be used.
This has truly been a circus. At the end of the day, when the legislative performers leave the capitol big top, the Utah audience will be forced to live with the decisions that have been made — both the good and the bad.