Utah Immigration Laws Go Too Far, FAIR Says

By Lambert Mbom | March 18, 2011 | 5:30am EDT

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (Photo courtesy of the governor's office)

(CNSNews.com) – An immigration reform group says the Obama administration should take legal action to block four  immigration bills that Utah's Republican governor signed into law this week. 

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- a group that seeks to improve border security and stop illegal immigration -- says Utah is usurping the role of the federal government.

The new laws in Utah include a guest-worker amnesty bill (H.B. 116); an Arizona-style immigration enforcement bill (H.B. 497); an agreement between Utah and the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to provide Utah businesses with migrant workers (H.B. 466); and an amendment (H.B. 469) that allows Utah citizens to sponsor immigrants.

“What we’d like to see is the same sort of legal action that the Justice Department took against Arizona last year," Ira Mehlman, FAIR's media director, told CNSNews.com. "The federal government simply said that is an infringement on our prerogatives.”

Unlike the Arizona law, which would allow Arizona police to check the immigration status of people stopped for potential crimes, Utah’s bills may be unconstitutional, Mehlman said.

-- H.B. 116 authorizes a guest-worker program beginning in two years that will allow undocumented people to pay fines and stay.

-- H.B. 497 requires local police to check the legal status of those arrested on felony or serious misdemeanor charges.

-- H.B. 466 establishes a partnership with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to allow workers to come to Utah using federal visas.

-- H.B. 469 allows Utah citizens to sponsor foreign nationals to live in Utah.

“Here you have a state that is saying we are just going to ignore -- and not only ignore federal immigration law; we are actually going to write our own immigration law. That demands some kind of response from the federal government to say that, no you can’t do that,” Mehlman added.

According to FAIR, key provisions of the bills signed into law are unconstitutional because they usurp federal authority over the establishment of immigration policy. 

A group of illegal immigrants waits to be deported to Mexico at the port of entry in Nogales, Ariz, on July 28, 2010. (AP File Photo/Jae C. Hong)

“Utah would grant two-year work permits to illegal aliens residing in Utah in spite of the fact that they are expressly prohibited by Congress from working in the United States,” Mehlman told CNSNews.com.  

“The same Utah law would allow the state to circumvent the employer sanctions provision of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act by requiring the governor to seek a waiver from the federal government. Yet the executive branch lacks the constitutional authority to change immigration laws written by Congress.”

Mehlman said in addition to laws that are clearly unconstitutional, the governor also signed legislation that would seem to defy logic and common sense. Among the bills he signed is one that enters Utah – a state with a 7.6 percent unemployment rate – into a partnership with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to recruit guest workers.

Gov. Herbert, meanwhile, touts the bills -- passed with Republican support -- as “the Utah solution.”

‘Utah has taken a thoughtful, rational approach and found common ground,” the governor said in a news release. “Thanks to the vision and determination of these local leaders, what we have begun today is a framework for a national conversation about immigration and a means to engage the federal government. Once again, Utah leads the nation in finding solutions and making tough choices,” the release asserts further.

Mehlman, meanwhile, pointed to the fact that states do have the authority to enforce immigration laws, but said the fact is that the current administration does not want immigration laws enforced.

“Some states have exercised that authority and found that they have actually reversed the flow of illegal immigration. States likeArizona, Oklahoma and few others have seen significant decline in the number of people living there illegally,” Mehlman said. “IfUtah wants to do something, they can assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and they can start putting pressure on the federal government to actually enforce it themselves.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Utah's senior senator, in a letter to Americans for Legal Immigration, said he had not taken a position on HB 116, since he “has the greatest respect for state's rights and the right of the state of Utah to determine state laws.”

“I do not support amnesty and in fact have voted against it,” Hatch said.

According to Hatch, securing its borders should be the top priority of the federal government.

“(M)any of our nation’s problems result from a residual effect of a porous border and a breakdown of our immigration enforcement system,” he said.

The Utah laws would go into effect in 2013. The Utah Legislature has sent a letter to the Utah congressional delegation asking its members to support the bills at the federal level to receive a waiver from the federal government to actually implement parts of the legislation.

Herbert  added: “There are those who will say these bills may not be perfect, but they are a step in the right direction and they are better than what we had.”

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