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Bill would gut Utah's guest-worker law

Published January 26, 2012 8:29 am

Immigration • "It is a compassionate bill," Provo lawmaker says of his proposal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The first salvo fired at Utah's controversial guest-worker immigration law will come from the desk of Rep. Chis Herrod on Thursday: a 53-page bill that would gut key provisions of the existing law and require congressional permission before letting it go into effect.

Backed by members of tea party groups and the movement that's bent on repealing and replacing HB116 since Gov. Gary Herbert signed it in March, the proposed Illegal Alien Transition Pilot Program would not allow Utah to issue work visas and would only create a pathway to legal status for those who overstayed visas and never previously worked in the state.

"This is a compromise bill," said Herrod, R-Provo, who is also a candidate for U.S. Senate. "It is a compassionate bill."

Herrod's proposal, which will be awaiting a fiscal note and a committee assignment, would only affect — by his estimate — 30,000 undocumented immigrants in the state because of its strict requirements on who would qualify.

Using what is called a Transition A permit, individuals with American-born children and who have overstayed a visa could remain in the United States to adjust their status without being subject to the three-to-10-year ban on returning to the country. It still would require them to ultimately adjust status legally through U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services and the State Department.

It also would establish penalties for those who overstayed visas, requiring them to perform 160 hours of community service. While they waited for a waiver to adjust status, the individuals would have to be sponsored by a U.S. citizen, church or business and the person could not legally work in the state during that time period.

Herrod's proposal also has a Transition B permit, which would give individuals here who overstayed a visa but who have worked using a false Social Security number, a year to leave the country and then apply for appropriate visas in their home country.

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said the proposal does not apply to anyone who entered the United States illegally — for example, crossing the border without a visa. He said the difference is that it's a civil infraction to overstay a visa while it's a misdemeanor to cross the border illegally.

"For us, this is an olive branch," Mortensen said in reference to the arguments roiling since last year's passage of HB116.

Herrod's bill also features a tough law-enforcement component, one directed at all Utah law enforcement agencies in existing programs with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Under the bill, any police chief or county sheriff who barred officers from enforcing federal immigration law while receiving federal money through partnerships would have their Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training certification revoked.

Dubbed by Mortensen the "Burbank Rule," after Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, this provision is likely to be among the more controversial aspects of the bill.

Burbank's office did not return a call Wednesday for comment.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who was one of the key architects of HB116, said he hadn't seen Herrod's bill.

"I was aware of a bill through media reports but was not asked to participate [in its drafting]," Bramble said.

Herrod's measure is already being backed by Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, a vocal opponent of HB116. That law, which doesn't kick in until July 2013, would allow undocumented immigrants in Utah to apply for a state-issued guest-worker permit after submitting to criminal background checks and paying fines. Opponents of the measure have argued it's unconstitutional because it usurps the federal government's authority to oversee immigration law.

HB116 law was sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden and passed in the House 41-32 and in the Senate 19-5 before it was signed by the governor.

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero —

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