Utah becomes a pioneer on immigration
The Legislature passed three immigration reform bills Thursday that set Utah up to blaze a new and controversial path that diverges from Arizona's approach on the volatile issue.
The journey, however, was something of a roller-coaster ride until the very end.
Late last Friday night, House members took turns wrestling with the step Utah was about to take: passing a bill that directly challenges the federal government's sovereignty on immigration.
"I usually have a good feel for the way a vote is going to turn out," said Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, the House majority leader. "On that one, I didn't know how it was going to turn out until the final vote."
And when HB116 passed 41-32, Utah stood alone and a bit divided.
On one side, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, had orchestrated the comprehensive immigration reform package that sought to tie together areas of enforcement and guest-worker provisions while hewing to ideas outlined by the Utah Compact, as well as Gov. Gary Herbert's six guiding principles.
On the other side was Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who had the first immigration bill out of the legislative chute an enforcement-only measure originally modeled after Arizona's law that was authored by his good friend, Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce.
Sandstrom's bill went through a series of changes, including requests by Senate leadership to remove "objectionable language" that some believed carried the taint of racial profiling and softening a requirement for local police to check on legal residency, in the end applying the mandate only in cases of felonies or more serious misdemeanors.
HB116, the guest-worker bill, and HB497, the enforcement-only measure, are now awaiting Herbert's signature, though his office declined to say when, or if, he will sign them. Latino groups on Thursday called for a boycott of all Utah businesses beginning Monday and lasting through March 28.
The state also sent a third immigration bill for Herbert to sign that provided the ultimate bridge between Bramble and Sandstrom a migrant-worker bill.
That bill, HB466, would enter Utah into an agreement with the Mexican state of Nuevo LeÃ³n. That state would provide migrant workers to businesses in Utah that need the trained work force, while the visas would be legally issued through the federal government.
Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who had two immigration bills die during the session and was a vocal champion of Sandstrom's enforcement-only bill and critic of the guest-worker measure, said it all fell apart on that Friday night.
"We had good process, good process, good process, and then, in one afternoon, it became Washington-style politics," Herrod said. "It stunk."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, however, was pleased with the outcome.
"It was a balanced solution," Waddoups said. "I feel good about it."
And Bramble said by having a start date two years from now, HB116 is doing what it was intended to do: put the federal government on notice that states are devising solutions to the thorny issue by incorporating a variety of perspectives.
Already, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has met with White House officials to talk about Utah's approach and how it can possibly be integrated into a larger model. Bramble said it will require the same kind of collaborative approach the Utah Legislature took during the 2011 session.
"I think Utah is capturing the attention of the nation, as well as conservatives and liberals," Bramble said.