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Questions raised about Utah's new immigration law

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Beginning this week, private employers in Utah will be required to verify the immigration status of their employees. But leaders on both sides of the immigration debate say this new law has a lot of unintended consequences and doesn't tackle the problem.

Overall, it's a step in the right direction. But it doesn't do what needs to be done.

–Eli Cawley, Utah Minuteman Project

Senate Bill 251, the Private Employer Verification Act, takes effect July 1. Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, sponsored the bill that is supposed to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants. "Overall, it's a step in the right direction. But it doesn't do what needs to be done," says Eli Cawley, chairman of the Utah Minuteman Project Board of Directors.

Cawley says the law is only one prong of what should be a three-pronged approach.

"You've got to take away the welfare benefits they enjoy through document fraud and identity theft," Cawley said. "You've got to take away the jobs, and you've got to find some way to deal with the recruitment by churches and charities here in the state."

Aside from that, Cawley says he's disappointed in the law and doesn't think it will do much, if anything, to deter undocumented workers from finding employment in Utah.

"It's totally the honor system, and fortunately here in Utah, we still have, on the part of some people, an adherence to the rule of law," Cawley says. "And so I believe that the individuals that wrote this bill, Mr. Buttars and others, are relying on the honesty of Utah employers to fulfill their duties as citizens."

Utah Documented Employment Registry
Utah Law - 13-47-201
A private employer who employs 15 or more people as of July 1, 2010, may not hire a new employee unless the employer is registered with and uses a status verification system to verify the federal legal working status of any new employee. Registration with Verify Utah expires every two years.

The law requires companies who have 15 or more employees to verify citizenship status for all new hires. It also requires the state to create a list of companies that are using E-Verify.

The law, however, doesn't have any penalties for companies that do not comply. In other words, employers who don't follow the law would be in violation, but there wouldn't be any consequences.

Cawley's not the only one who has a problem with that. Immigration proponent Tony Yapias says it will only encourage employers to take advantage of undocumented workers.

"It really is not going to do much," Yapias says. "What you're going to find is employers, they'll contract them for a week or two weeks. They'll make them work then they'll say, ‘I want to see your papers now.' And guess what? [The employers will then say,] ‘Oh, you don't have papers? Oh, then I can't pay you.'"

Yapias agrees something needs to be done, but both he and Cawley say this law isn't the answer.


Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg and Andrew Adams.

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