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Robles, Mero: Immigrant accountability bill recognizes reality

Published December 5, 2010 2:10 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

With more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants living in Utah, how should the Legislature respond? Until Nov. 30, the only public proposal was an impractical, arguably unconstitutional, catch-and-release bill by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, mimicking Arizona's heavy-handed and fiscally irresponsible law. But Utah is not Arizona.

A realistic alternative, a truly Utah solution reflecting the popular Utah Compact, is now before the state Legislature. The Utah Pilot Accountability Permit Program, otherwise known as the immigrant accountability bill, protects public safety, defends our precious freedoms and responsibly promotes economic prosperity.

The accountability bill, though comprehensive, is remarkably simple to understand: It would hold Utah's undocumented immigrants to a high standard of accountability.

Because Utah has no power or authority to deport undocumented immigrants, needlessly punitive actions against them would only drive them further underground, making an already difficult public safety situation even worse. The accountability bill is a comprehensive effort to bring them to the surface of Utah society, where they would be known and fully integrated into our communities. If undocumented immigrants choose to live among us, we can expect them to be accountable, as we are.

Such a culture of accountability would put to rest any reasonable concerns about Utah ever becoming a "magnet state."

The shadows of society would begin to recede as more people of good will stepped into the light. Real criminals feeding on Utah's undocumented immigrant community would grow increasingly exposed to state and local law enforcement. Utah would become the last state real criminals would want to enter.

The accountability bill would require all undocumented immigrants in Utah to apply for and carry a new accountability card in order to live, work and raise their families among us.

The application process is reasonable and rigorous. It includes a substantial fee, a criminal background check run through the Department of Homeland Security and a demonstration of proficiency in English and American civics (classes paid for by the applicant, not taxpayers).

The accountability bill does not give undocumented immigrants any benefits other than the ability to safely and productively live among us. That is not "amnesty." It is simple prudence. Only the federal government can grant citizenship.

The accountability card does not do that, nor is it a "pathway to citizenship."

The accountability card is recognition of the reality that undocumented immigrants live among us and an indication, on their part, that they want to do so peacefully and productively.

Undocumented immigrants who have lived in Utah at least 18 months would be required to apply for a Type A card, which must be renewed every two years. Those who have lived here less than 18 months and can prove current employment would be required to apply for a non-renewable, temporary Type B card, which would expire after 18 months.

Upon the expiration date, Type B card holders would then be required to apply for a Type A card or leave the state and have their contact information turned over to federal authorities.

Again, while Utah does not have the power or authority to deport undocumented immigrants, we do have a 10th Amendment right to protect our public safety and require anyone living in Utah to live by our laws and embrace our culture.

As we approach another legislative session in January, political mudslinging, stereotyping, sweeping generalities, cynicism and rancor from both sides will descend on this reasonable proposal.

We call on every responsible citizen to read the accountability bill. Judge for yourself the wisdom and merits of its policy. If you have constructive suggestions for improving the bill, we welcome your input.

Luz Robles is a Utah state senator, and Paul T. Mero is president of Sutherland Institute.