New Attorney General John Swallow’s Office has wasted no time in pushing to the back burner one of his predecessor’s priority projects: coming up with an agreement that would streamline the process for legal workers to come to Utah from the Mexican state of Nuevo León.
Brian Tarbet, general counsel to Swallow, told the Commission on Immigration and Migration on Thursday that establishing the agreement signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2011 wasn’t a priority in the new administration.
"This is not being pursued by the office at this time," Tarbet said.
It’s a marked contrast to former three-term Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who gave the commission regular updates on progress with the memorandum of understanding that HB466 required the Attorney General’s Office to pursue.
But Shurtleff, who was a torchbearer on the issue of immigration, is no longer on the commission — Swallow is. And Tarbet was sitting in for Swallow.
After the meeting, Tarbert said the office was "not prepared to comment. There have been other pressing issues."
The law was signed along with three other immigration bills the Legislature wrangled with in an attempt to deal with immigration in a comprehensive fashion. While two of the laws that were passed were high-profile — HB116, which established a guest-worker program operated by Utah, and HB497, the enforcement-only law similar to Arizona’s SB1070 — HB466 was viewed by many as a compromise law for hardline restrictionists and those who supported immigration. It passed 72-0 in the House and 25-1 in the Senate.
The law required the attorney general to draft a memorandum of understanding with Nuevo León to locate and provide legal workers to Utah based on need. However, the visas the workers would get would be issued by the federal government — keeping Utah from being in violation of federal law.
It also established the commission and required them to issue an annual report on their findings for the past year. The commission submitted a report Thursday to House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and newly chosen Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, that offered a summary of presentations the body received over the course of its inaugural year.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Steven Sandstrom, an Orem Republican who stepped down last year in an unsuccessful bid for Congress, sponsored HB466, and Bramble said he hadn’t heard the Nuevo León agreement wasn’t being pursued.
Sandstrom said he’d be "disappointed if it died on the vine."
Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero, who also sits on the commission, said a few eyebrows were raised when Tarbert made his comment, but he wasn’t surprised that Swallow’s office wouldn’t aggressively push for the agreement.
"I remember during the campaign, both John and Sean Reyes [Swallow’s GOP primary opponent] pulled me aside and each one independent of the other said they wanted me to know immigration wouldn’t be a big thing for them," Mero said. "I think that’s the way to look at what happened" Thursday.
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