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Immigration Bill that Would Delay Utah's Guest Worker Program is Debated in Committee

A bill that would push back the start date of Utah’s guest worker program for undocumented immigrants was debated in committee at the Capitol on Wednesday morning. Lawmakers are backpedaling from legislation they passed two years ago.

With the federal government considering comprehensive immigration reform, Utah lawmakers are trying to postpone the state-level immigration laws they created in 2011.

At issue is House Bill 116, which was signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert in 2011, and which is slated to take effect in July. That law aims to give work permits to undocumented immigrants after requiring them to pass background checks and pay fines – though constitutional experts suggest the state has no authority to issue such a permit, and that the law is therefore unsound.

In a meeting of the Senate Business and Labor Standing Committee Wednesday morning, Republican Senator Curt Bramble, of Provo, said that the state should delay implementing its immigration reform laws until 2015, while the Federal Government deliberates immigration reform.

“The abject, dismal, pathetic failure of the federal government to act has caused several states including Utah to take action. Given current activity in Congress – we’ve heard from our own delegation that Congress is taking up immigration – this bill pushes back the effective date until 2015 to give this congress a chance to do what they say that they’re intending to do. ”

Bramble said another reason to postpone the law is because it would put Utah employers at odds with the federal government.

“The risk to an employer accepting a state based work permit without federal approval makes it untenable.”

But Republican Senator Todd Weiler, of Woods Cross, said that Utah was a model for other states, and that it should allow the laws to go into effect, despite any intention for reform at the federal level.

“I understood we were the poster child with this for other states and they’ve all adopted the same thing. Is that not correct? I mean are they going to extend theirs as well or all we all in this together? If we’re going to lead I think we ought to lead on this right now, personally. ”

Mark Alvarez, an immigration Attorney in Salt Lake City, and author of an eBook on immigration in Utah called “Becoming America,” says that HB116 gave false hopes to many undocumented workers, and may have even allowed extortion to occur in the name of guest worker permits. He said the law should be postponed for now, but went on to argue for its removal from Utah code.

“I would suggest that HB116 is the policy equivalent of Lance Armstrong. It looks good, but it’s deceptive and essentially dishonest. Because what the state is trying to do is not really to pass Utah immigration policy – that’s not possible constitutionally, it’s not possible under the immigration scheme of the United States. What the state of Utah wanted to do was send a message. HB116 shouldn’t be on the books at all. But it seems prudent to extend the implementation date by two years.”

The committee voted 7-1 in favor of delaying Utah’s immigration laws. The measure to postpone implementation of the laws will now be considered in the House.