Some Utah Legislators Plan Measures on Illegal Immigration

August 8, 2006

Some Utah lawmakers are thinking about measures to crack down on illegal immigration.

Ideas include holding employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, requiring proof of citizenship or legal status to receive state services and sending illegal immigrants convicted of crimes to privatized prisons.

There also likely will be renewed effort to repeal the law granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who attend and graduate from Utah high schools.

They also could took aim at the law that allows illegal immigrants to drive and obtain insurance using a driving privilege card.

Gov. Jon Huntsman has not been briefed on the new proposals, and will evaluate each on its own merits, said Mike Mower, the governor’s spokesman. Huntsman continues to support keeping the tuition law and the driving privilege card in place, Mower said.

Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, who is running for re-election, originally supported granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants but has now changed her mind. She also is looking at proposals similar to some passed in Colorado. One requires people to show identification to access state services and another calls for the state attorney general to sue the federal government over inaction on immigration reform.

“As it is now, the federal government is doing nothing,'” Morgan said. ‘”When we have a federal government doing nothing, I feel a responsibility as a legislator to look into the issue and see what can be done.”

Her Republican opponent, Robyn Bagley, promises to take a tough stand when it comes to illegal immigration, if elected.

“Definitely we have got to repeal in-state tuition” for undocumented students, she said. “We have got to make employers accountable … non-emergency medical care should not be covered.”

Morgan said she’d like to see bipartisan support behind any illegal-immigration measures, but House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, said he is not aware of any other Democrats shifting their positions.

Michael Clara, co-chairman of the Utah Hispanic Legislative Task Force, questioned the constitutionality of requiring people to carry proof of citizenship or legal status.

“I think it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment to require people to carry proof of citizenship,” Clara said. “The next step is, who are you going to ask for proof of citizenship? That’s going to be brown-skinned people. You can’t tell if someone’s a citizen by his skin color.”

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has filed a federal court lawsuit in Chicago challenging a new law requiring proof of citizenship to obtain Medicaid or Medicare services.

Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, plans to seek repeal of in-state tuition for and driving-privilege cards for illegal immigrants.

Donnelson also has indicated he plans again to try requiring businesses in Utah to verify new hires’ eligibility to work in the United States.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has opened a bill file to deal specifically with illegal immigrants who are serving time for crimes committed here.

Ray hopes to find a way to contract with a private prison to house out of state or out of the country many of the illegal immigrants who committed crimes in Utah.

There were 260 inmates with a deportation hold in Utah’s prisons, from 32 different countries, on June 12, according to a Department of Corrections report. Mexico was the largest nation of origin, with 219 inmates.

Ray said the idea could potentially save taxpayers’ money. It costs about $23,000 a year to house an inmate in Utah.

“You might have to pay $1,000 for a plane ticket,” he said. “But if it costs $30,000 to house them here, and $15,000 to send them to their home country, it’s worth taking a look at.”

The Utah Minuteman Project is looking for a lawmaker to sponsor a bill that would require law enforcement officers to check immigration status during traffic stops.

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