Change is coming to Utah's immigration laws, Gov. Gary Herbert predicted Thursday, although he expressed reservations about the Beehive State following Arizona's model for cracking down on illegal immigrants.
"The concept and intent [of Arizona's new law] is something all Americans would support," Herbert said during his monthly KUED news conference. But he identified some concerns.
The Arizona measure requires law enforcement officers to ask for proof of legal residency if there is "reasonable suspicion" that a person may be undocumented.
Herbert favors a more rigorous standard of probable cause.
"I have some concerns about equal protection under the 14th Amendment, for example, and how that would play under the Arizona bill," he said. "Probable cause ought to be part of that. You need to raise the threshold. You cannot just, on a hunch, question people. That would be a violation of the 14th Amendment. You certainly can't use national origin, ethnicity color of your skin for criteria for suspicion."
Herbert said that, because of the fervor and frustration with the federal government surrounding the issue, Utah lawmakers will pass some kind of immigration reform during the 2011 legislative session. He plans to meet with law enforcement, immigrant organizations and the business community to discuss possible solutions and concerns.
"If you're not going to do it, federal government, then the states are," Herbert said. "Utah is prepared to take action."
On Wednesday, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to voice opposition to Arizona's brand of immigration enforcement, specifically his feeling that it would make the Latino population unwilling to report crimes or cooperate with law enforcement. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has voiced similar concerns about Arizona's law.
Earlier this month, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Herbert postponed plans for a special session intended to revise a law that requires businesses to electronically verify employees' legal status. That law had no penalties, but Herbert and the business community wanted to clarify that participation in the program was voluntary.
The concern was that the Arizona action had raised the temperature so high that legislators might want to keep the E-Verify program mandatory and add tough penalties.
"This is a complicated issue," Herbert said. "You can't ... have some comprehensive immigration bill in a two- to three-hour special session."
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, Herbert's Democratic opponent in this year's gubernatorial race, has similar concerns about the constitutionality of Arizona's law and the risk of racial profiling, said spokeswoman Stella Thurkill.
"On top of that," Thurkill said, "Mayor Corroon says our jails are currently at capacity and our state prison system is not funded to handle the influx of nondangerous offenders."
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, plans to introduce legislation similar to Arizona's next session. Sandstrom has said his bill would protect victims and witnesses of crimes from being asked for their legal status, and have a clearer standard for seeking documentation.
Tony Yapias, of the advocacy group Proyecto Latino de Utah, said it doesn't matter if Utah adopts the Arizona law or something akin to it.
"The whole principle aspect of this law is to racially profile. There is no other way around it," he said. "There should not be any laws introduced that mirror Arizona's bill."
Yapias acknowledges that it is inevitable that an immigration law will pass, but he urged the state's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to speak up on the issue.
Until that happens, Yapias said, "you're going to have these Mormon legislators introduce all types of laws, racist laws, in the state, like what happened in Arizona."
State Sen. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican and sponsor of Arizona's law, is LDS.
A church spokesman could not be reached Thursday evening. But late last month spokesman Scott Trotter said the Utah-based faith has taken no stand on the Arizona bill.
Eli Cawley, co-chairman of the Utah Minuteman Project, said Herbert's decision to avoid the immigration issue in a special session "demonstrates exactly which side of the issue Mr. Herbert came down on. It was decidedly in favor of illegal aliens and the people who hire them."
As it stands now, Herbert supports a market-based approach. He said the federal government should build "tall fences" but have "a wide gate" that allows people to enter the country legally to work.
He said employers should be given time to adopt a verification system for workers and then, once the system is in place, government can slap employers who hire undocumented immigrants with tough fines. Employers would cease to hire illegal workers, the governor said, because they couldn't afford the risk.
"Jose Herbert here is going to end up saying, 'Hmm, I can't find a job here. I'm here for the economic benefit for my family, a good and noble reason. Maybe I need to go back and come through the gate and do this appropriately and legally,' " Herbert said. "And, frankly, you don't need to round anybody up. You don't need to punish anybody."
That may mean that all job applicants will have to get used to being asked if they are in the country legally, he added, but it is a small price to pay to resolve the issue.
Cawley said that Herbert has sided every time with "the Chamber of Commerce types" and the result has been market-driven enforcement that is "always to the detriment of the rule of law and American labor."
Thurkill said Corroon believes illegal immigration is not a problem isolated to any one state, and no single state should have to pick up the cost of enforcing the law.
"We need to secure our borders," she said, "crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, remove dangerous criminals from our country and require all people to go through the proper immigration process."
Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he plans to speak personally to the Utah Transit Authority board about his qualms with salaries of the agency's top executives.
Herbert has said previously that the pay appears excessive. Speaking at his monthly KUED news conference, the governor argued agencies ought to be able to defend taxpayer-funded salaries.
Although the governor appoints only one of the 19 UTA board members, he said he still has questions about the compensation that he doesn't feel are being addressed.
"I'm concerned about the answers I'm not getting," Herbert said. "I'm just as much in the dark for the whys and wherefores of the salaries as the average taxpayer."
UTA's CEO, John Inglish, will make nearly $300,000 this year after a planned $40,000 bonus was suspended. General Manager Michael Allegra will make more than $219,000 and general counsel Bruce Jones more than $207,000.