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AG Shurtleff proposing Utah-specific guest-worker program

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's attorney general says the state needs to take action on immigration reform. He's working on what he calls a different approach than Arizona's law.

A new law in Utah goes into effect Thursday that requires private employers to verify the status of new employees.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says more needs to be done.

Shurtleff disagrees with Arizona law

In Utah, we ought to be looking at a comprehensive approach, which includes dealing with not only the immigration question but also with security and employment.

–Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff

"If we start doing what Arizona's doing -- I'm sorry, but it's seen as an anti-Latino, anti-Mexican," he says. "There's a lot of talk out there, and Mexico doesn't want to deal with that anymore."

Shurtleff says he's constantly hearing from citizens who ask why he's not pushing for a law in Utah similar to Arizona's. He insists the ramifications of such a law would have devastating effects for Utah's employers, local law enforcement and relationship with Mexico.

"I think we have to have a counter proposal to what some legislators are proposing to do in Arizona," he says.

Shurtleff wants to keep pressure on the federal government but says there are things Utah can do, starting with changes in temporary-worker status. He has an alternative to Arizona's immigration law: a Utah-specific guest-worker pilot program.

Shurtleff's guest-worker plan

By creating a legal way for immigrants to find work, Shurtleff says employers won't feel a need to hire them illegally, and workers will stop committing identity theft.

He says the idea is in its infancy and is also being discussed to varying degrees by lawmakers.

Why Nuevo Leon?
"They set the example in Nuevo Leon with creating, about four years ago, this commission on immigration. It is not a federal, but a state-run organization. That's why all these Mexicans... are going to Nuevo Leon because... they have a test system in place that was developed by Mexico, but is now being used by Fortune 500 companies that categorize (workers) as platinum, silver, bronze as far as their skill set so companies up here will know what kind of workers they're getting." -Mark Shurtleff

Under the plan, Utah would sign a memorandum of understanding with the Mexican state Nuevo Leon. That state would test workers, group them according to skills, and send them to Utah legally.

"We would like to be the other end of that pipeline, as far as I'm concerned," Shurtleff says.

"What I'm talking about doing is trying to deal with the employment issue because, as July 1 hits, and now Utah businesses are required to e-Verify their employees, if they discover they're illegal, they're not supposed to keep working for them," Shurtleff says. "If the jobs are still needed, we need a pipeline in Utah to supply those legal temporary workers."

Shurtleff says he's working closely with officials from the Mexican State of Nuevo Leon, as well as Gov. Gary Herbert and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. He's also pushing for a state immigration commission because he knows tackling employment is just a start.

Other plans for immigration reform

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, has said he plans to craft a bill in Utah similar to Arizona's immigration law, which allows officers to check for immigration status based on "reasonable suspicion."

"We need to talk comprehensive reform, and not just put all the onus on police officers to make a decision where they're going to be sued one way or the other," Shurtleff says.

Sandstrom has suggested raising the standard for officers to "probable cause" as one way to help mitigate concerns.

The attorney general says simply saying "no" to illegal immigration isn't cutting it.

"In Utah, we ought to be looking at a comprehensive approach, which includes dealing with not only the immigration question, but also with security and employment," Shurtleff says.

Comprehensive reform is still needed, with cooperation from Mexico.

"It's become evident there are consequences for any public policy design, and those consequences definitely reach the business community." Marty Carpenter, Salt Lake Chamber

"We can't solve it in Utah, Arizona. The federal government can't even do it without working well with Mexico to resolve the issue," Shurtleff said.

He says he has been meeting two to three times a year with attorneys general from Mexico. They will next be in Utah in August to receive training from Shurtleff's office.

Immigration reform's effect on Utah's economy

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Chamber says any of these immigration reform ideas will impact Utah's economy.

"It's become evident there are consequences for any public policy design, and those consequences definitely reach the business community," says chamber spokesman Marty Carpenter.

Already, some conventions slated for Arizona have moved to Utah. So, if Utah were to follow in Arizona's footsteps, it's possible the state might receive similar backlash.

"I thin our bigger considerations are things like: we're a very tourism-heavy state," Carpenter says." Our ski industry depends a lot on a national reputation, a worldwide reputation."

Mostly, the Salt Lake Chamber hopes for a balance between enforcement and economic vitality. How to get to that balance is the hard part.


Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg, Andrew Adams and Nicole Gonzales.

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