In the future, applicants for business licenses in unincorporated Salt Lake County will have to provide written assurance that they have used E-Verify to guarantee the legal working status of their employees.
A resolution requiring the business license division to include a status-verification check-off box on application forms for new licenses and renewals received County Council approval Tuesday on a party-line 5-4 vote.
The council's Republican majority voted for the measure, which Council Chairman David Wilde characterized as simply a matter of "asking people to abide by [federal and state] laws" prohibiting the knowing employment of undocumented immigrants.
The four Democrats countered that the resolution went too far in telling the business license division how to do its job. They also maintained it could put unincorporated area businesses at a disadvantage compared to cities and other counties that don't require such disclosures.
Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto, a Democrat, added that the concept of a check-off box reminds her of some of the discriminatory practices enacted against Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"I'm a minority. This has a bad feeling for me," she said. "It targets people."
Councilman Steve DeBry, a Republican, insisted that "ethnicity doesn't come into it" and that the resolution is just "a tool to help make businesses in Salt Lake County stay on the side of the law."
Fellow Republican Richard Snelgrove, the resolution's sponsor and a candidate for county mayor, said county government uses E-Verify as part of its employment policy and that "we should preach what we practice."
He disputed the idea that the check-off box would hurt unincorporated-area businesses, arguing that signing off on the use of E-Verify "would essentially indemnify a business owner if [federal immigration officials] comes knocking at the door."
Republican Councilman Michael Jensen noted that since the resolution does not stipulate any penalties against business-license holders for not using E-Verify, its passage primarily reinforces that verification is an important policy issue.
Responded Democratic Councilman Randy Horiuchi, participating by telephone in a meeting for the first time since suffering a stroke in late January: Because the resolution is such a "big piece of public policy ... it would be prudent to get some of the feelings from members of the community rather than boldly going where are others are afraid to go."
He was referring to the reluctance of the Utah Legislature to address immigration issues this session.
Fellow Democrat Arlyn Bradshaw said the timing of the resolution's introduction was "interesting," considering it comes the week before party caucuses. He also questioned whether the county is the proper entity to be enforcing federal labor law.
"There are many aspects of federal labor law, but only one we're having a check box for," he said, adding that Mayor Peter Corroon, also a Democrat, may not have authority to veto a resolution approved by the council.
The council's decision pleased veteran political figure Merrill Cook and other members of CATSUP Citizens Aligned to Secure Utah's Prosperity which has been circulating petitions calling for a vote in the November general election on the mandatory use of E-Verify.
"I wished they had passed the resolution as the initiative petition was written," Cook said. "But I hope in the future these small steps turn into larger steps. â¦ This is moving it in that direction."
He said his group has collected more than 25,000 signatures in Salt Lake County. More than 36,000 are needed to get it on November's ballot.
"This doesn't mean our job is finished," said Cook, who added that CATSUP now must decide whether to approach other Salt Lake Valley cities and Utah counties about passing ordinances requiring verification processes.