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Hatch's new immigration bill: Focus on enforcement

Published October 1, 2010 1:42 pm

Politics • New plan draws heat from both sides of debate.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed his answer to the nation's immigration problem this week, introducing a bill that hugs the conservative line against undocumented workers trying to obtain jobs and forcing police agencies to cross-deputize their officers as immigration agents or lose federal funding.

Hatch introduced his bill late Wednesday as the Senate shut down until after the November election, leaving little chance the bill will see the light of a committee room or come to a vote this session.

Hatch said his measure hits head-on the concerns residents raised to him during a recent state tour and would go a long way to securing the U.S.-Mexican border, clamping down on identity theft and hindering drug cartel efforts.

"It is clear in my talks with law enforcement officials and concerned citizens across Utah that much more remains to be done," Hatch said. "My legislation addresses their concerns by targeting the problems our nation's porous borders and broken immigration system are causing in Utah."

Hatch's bill says the IRS would have to inform an employer of an inaccurate Social Security number and then contact the number's real owner in case of suspected fraud.

The legislation, which he dubbed the Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America's Security Act, would also limit a state's ability to receive Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance funding to cover kids or pregnant women who are not U.S. citizens.

Additionally, Hatch's bill would require states, counties and cities that have applied to cross-deputize their officers as immigration law enforcement agents to take part in the program or risk losing federal funding.

Hatch's office says the intent of that provision is to apply only to those police agencies that have enrolled in the Homeland Security program.

Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minuteman Project, says he doesn't believe Hatch is serious about the issue and overlooked the businesses that hire undocumented immigrants.

"I think he completely misses the boat when it comes to the real problem with illegalimmigration," Cawley said.

Without going after the businesses that hire the immigrants, and their connections with those who smuggle them across the border, the flow of immigrants will continue, Cawley said.

Ben Johnson, the executive director of the Washington-based American Immigration Council, says Hatch's bill is simply more of the same rhetoric that's been tossed around for a while and does nothing to move the debate forward.

"The reality is that there too many politicians, and I think, unfortunately, Senator Hatch is beginning to fall into that category, introducing legislation not in any effort to actually get it passed but to send messages to their constituents," Johnson said.

Johnson added some parts of Hatch's legislation are already addressed in existing law.

"Declaring that we should deny visas to gang members and members of organized crime is like outlawing dinosaurs in Utah," Johnson said. "The law already prevents people who are members of gangs from getting visas."

Hatch counters the current law only forbids gang members from obtaining visas if they are believed to be traveling for unlawful activity. The senator's bill would not require that finding.

tburr@sltrib.com