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Monday, March 7, 2011

Utah Creates Its Own Guestworker Program

The State of Utah has joined Arizona in passing laws that may well step on federal immigration prerogatives, but in a distinctly different direction. Arizona's laws were basically intended to scare workers away, whereas Utah has decided to move in a more positive direction, as noted in today's New York Times:

Utah’s package includes measures to tighten enforcement against illegal immigrants that echo Arizona’s tough stance — like a requirement that the police check the immigration status of anyone arrested on a felony or a serious misdemeanor charge.
But supporters said the hybrid package offered an alternative to states, including those controlled by Republicans, that are seeking to avoid the costly political polarization and legal challenges that followed Arizona’s law and that also want to recognize the need of some businesses for immigrant labor in spite of high unemployment nationally.
The guest worker bill came after intense lobbying by business and farm groups as well as by some immigrant advocates, and it enjoyed the quiet but all-important endorsement of the Mormon Church. It is likely to raise many of the same constitutional questions as the Arizona law, including whether it intrudes on areas of immigration law reserved exclusively for the federal government. Central provisions of Arizona’s law, known as S. B. 1070, were suspended by federal courts pending a lawsuit by the Obama administration.
But in contrast to Arizona’s approach, Utah lawmakers framed their bill to set up a negotiation, rather than a confrontation, between the governor and the federal authorities. Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican who handily won election in November, is expected to sign the bill.
Under one bill approved on Friday, Utah would issue a two-year work permit to illegal immigrants who could prove that they had been living and working in the state. To qualify, immigrants would have to pass a criminal background check and pay fines of up to $2,500.
The bill gives the governor until 2013 to negotiate with federal immigration authorities for a waiver for the guest worker program. Under federal law, it is a violation for an employer to knowingly hire an illegal immigrant. If no waiver has been obtained by then, the guest worker program would go into effect anyway.
This seems like one of the more useful models for dealing with immigration that has been put on the table, since, as one Utah legislator noted, “we literally do not have the ability to remove those who are here illegally.” 

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