Utah Legislator Prepares to Introduce Arizona-style Immigration Legislation in Upcoming Legislative Session1
July 20, 2010 by Jason Brown
As the Utah Legislature prepares to introduce an Arizona-style immigration reform style bill in the upcoming legislative session, on July 20, 2010 Governor Herbert held a multi-stake holder forum at the capitol to ensure that there is civil discourse on this touchy and emotional issue.
I happened to be at the capitol building on the morning of July 20th, when I heard that there would be an immigration forum. I quickly headed over to the venue as the lights began to flicker. When I arrived and was directed to my seat by armed police, the room was dark, and getting warmer. The electricity had gone out throughout the Capitol District of Salt Lake. I sat next to a man, who introduced himself as a Sioux Native American from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. I thought that surely he was an ally to illegal immigrants who simply wanted a chance at a decent life. He turned to me and asked: “so, what do you think of all this?” I said, “Frankly, I don’t believe in borders in the first place.” Unamused, and with his arms crossed, he said, “Native Americans have been fighting terrorists since 1492, and I think all of you need to go back to your countries!”
As we waited for the lights to go on, a clean cut man came to the front and suggested we start a small discussion in the meantime. He suggested that if people had something to say that they come up to the front and speak their minds. The thirty or so people in the overflow room with me agreed. The first to step up was a woman from South Africa who had come here as she put to “to see what America was like.” Holding back tears, she said that immigrants wanted nothing more than to provide for their families. Another man got up and asked a powerfully condemning question: “why do you call your ancestors pioneers, and our ancestors wetbacks and illegals?”
Eventually the lights can on with a flutter and the forum began with a speech by Governor Herbert. He unequivocally condemned the kind of tactics displayed by those who were behind the release of a list with 1,300 names of suspected illegal immigrants in Utah and called for level headed civil discourse. The Governor emphasized the fact that Utah was not Arizona, and any immigration reform passed at the state level would have to be unique to the state.
After the Governor’s speech, the forum’s approximately 15 participants introduced themselves, which was made up of state representatives and senators, media personalities, representatives from the Farm Bureau and construction industries, law enforcement and community advocates such as Tony Yapias, a staunch defender of Utah’s Latino population’s rights.
Much of the forum was spent lambasting the federal government for being derelict in their duties to “secure the borders” and enforce immigration laws. It was cited that Utah houses over 100,000 illegal immigrants, most of who it was assumed are from Mexico or Latin America, and all agreed that immigration reform was an essential next step. But it was unclear exactly what the state was capable and able to do.
Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City Police Chief suggested that it was outside of law enforcement’s mandate to enforce federal immigration policy, and that only if a person had overstayed their visa, a civil offence, would they be compelled to act. He also suggested that they simply do not have the funding to enforce federal laws. He also believed that it was dangerous to base probable cause on non-behavioral characteristics such as race, which invites personal bias into an officer’s decision to check immigration status. This grey area has created most of the controversy in the aftermath of the Arizona legislation, which mandates that local law enforcement officers use probable cause to check the status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.
Another major issue was attempting to define what a guest worker program might look like and whether or not such a program would be giving amnesty to illegal immigrants already living in the country. State Representative Carl Wimmer was adamant to point out that it was simply unfair to allow those already here to receive guest worker status when there are millions of people trying to get into the country legally and cannot because the process is so convoluted. Panel members from the Farm Bureau and Layton Construction emphasized Utah’s dependence on cheap immigrant and seasonal labor.
Latino members of the panel were quick to point out that the United States was a nation of immigrants and that the majority of those who come here are hard workers and are simply trying to provide for their families. Latino and Euro-American alike were quick to emphasize the fact that regardless of politics, immigrants were human beings and needed to be treated with dignity and respect. Throughout the forum, there was no mention of macro-economic issues such as NAFTA which put over 1 million corn farmers out of business in Mexico by lifting restrictions on the import of US corn to Mexico which is highly subsidized.
While State Representatives such as Stephen Sandstrom are poised to introduce legislation that closely resembles the Arizona immigration reform bill, which is currently being challenged by the Federal Government as unconstitutional, it is unclear which direction Utah will go. From the tone of the forum, it appears that anything that resembles the Arizona bill will not go far, but with many frustrated by the federal government’s apparent lack of leadership on this issue, the anti-immigrant activists may be able to push through legislation as a way of prodding the federal government into broader action.