A bill could stop undocumented youth in Utah from playing school sports, critics say. Gov. Cox is signing it — with a catch.

“We’re not trying to exclude anybody from playing,” the governor said Thursday.

Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday that he intends to sign a bill that some say could exclude undocumented children and teens from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities.

HB209 would require someone interested in playing sports or participating in an extracurricular activity at a private or public school to provide certain identifying documentation. That documentation includes: a birth certificate, a state driver license or passport, or any federally recognized identification like one issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

Cox said he intended to sign the bill on Wednesday, but was alerted to concerns about what it might mean for young undocumented Utahns. He said he paused, contacted the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, and got assurance that the bill was intended to provide youth more access to sports, not less.

“I am planning to the sign the bill,” Cox said Thursday during his monthly news conference. “But what I did was I got a promise from the bill’s sponsor that we would look at this over the next month and we would talk to all the high schools, all the middle schools in the state. And if there are students who would be impacted by this, we will call a special session to come in and change the bill.

“We’re not trying to exclude anybody from playing.”

Teuscher told The Salt Lake Tribune that someone’s birth certificate can be from any state or country, and can be “any official record” that contains someone’s date of birth, place of birth, sex and parentage. Because of that, Teuscher doesn’t believe the law will have any impact on undocumented youth.

“The only scenario where someone wouldn’t be able to play would be some undocumented person that comes over that happens to enroll in high school — because if they’d been here a few years, then they would have some other documentation in place that would qualify here,” Teuscher said. “But say they enroll in high school, and they want to play sports, they can’t get a hold of anyone else that has a copy of the document, they can’t reach out to their home country to get a document, whatever it is. And in reality, my understanding is, that just doesn’t exist.”

Others believe it will be more of an issue than the lawmaker thinks. Brianna Puga, an immigrant rights community organizer at Comunidades Unidas, told The Tribune that although there are alternatives to providing a birth certificate, “the requirement to show a federal or state ID for folks who cannot present a birth certificate will discriminate against undocumented students as undocumented students cannot provide such documents.”

Alejandro Callejas participated in sports as a high-schooler in Utah, including football, soccer and swimming. He was also on the debate team. He was able to participate in those activities unencumbered, with no intervention from the state government or the Utah High School Activities Association.

Callejas said he now fears that HB209 could change that for his family members and friends.

“A lot of the friends that I know, and the little siblings of some of the friends I have would be affected on that,” said Callegas, who was born in El Salvador but has lived in Utah for the last 15 years. “They wouldn’t be able to participate, which would be a bummer because a lot of them are very talented young people.”

Puga hoped that Cox would make time to talk to some people from the undocumented community and hear their concerns. She also wanted Cox to veto the bill.

“There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of stress because students wouldn’t be able to try out for extracurricular activities, for the basketball team, for the soccer team,” Puga told The Tribune. “They wouldn’t have access to potential scholarships or post-secondary opportunities based on their athletic abilities or their abilities in other extracurricular activities.

“This would further marginalize the undocumented community and young folks as well who have already been stigmatized by their status.”

Puga indicated a “call to action” would be organized if Cox did not grant the meeting Comunidades Unidas is asking for.

Utah’s undocumented population is estimated at 89,000, per the Migration Policy Institute. Around 7,000 are between the ages of 3 to 17.

Most of HB209 details what is required of a student in order to participate in sports at a public or private school. Its original intent was to make it easier for home-schooled kids to benefit from sports and extracurricular activities, Teuscher, who’s also an attorney, said.

The language detailing requirements for a birth certificate or other documentation came from HB463, a failed bill by sponsored by Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan. Last year, Birkeland shepherded HB11, legislation aimed at banning transgender girls from competing in sports. Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed that bill, the legislature overrode it, and a judge later blocked it.

Teuscher said his bill and Birkeland’s were combined because they dealt with the same sections of Utah law. He added that the purpose of HB463 was to clean up holes left by HB11, which created a commission that would determine if a transgender girl could compete in a boy’s sport. Part of that bill’s language included a clause that conditioned “student athlete participation in gender-designated sports in the public education system on the student’s birth certificate.”

But after HB11 initially passed, it was discovered that not all schools collected birth certificates from students, Teuscher said. So if there is a school that doesn’t require a birth certificate, there would theoretically be no way for the commission process to kick in if a transgender girl wanted to compete in a boys’ sport at that school, Teuscher said. So HB463 was a way to require all schools to collect birth certificates as a way to make sure there was a way to spark the commission process, he said.

Birkeland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Due to HB463′s slow move through the legislative process, tacking it onto HB209 helped smooth out the legislative process, Teuscher said.

“This happens from time to time where you have a bill, someone else has a bill, they deal with the same section of code,” Teuscher said. “They may not be doing the exact same thing. But just for legislative efficiencies, things are moving along, and to keep things moving along and not bog down the process, we’ll come together and say, ‘Hey, let’s just combine our bills, amend in your part of the bill into my part. And that’s what we did in this case.”