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SALT LAKE CITY -- A hotly-anticipated illegal immigration bill was finally unveiled at Utah's State Capitol Friday. It's patterned after Arizona's immigration law, though the lawmaker behind it says it's very different.
The federal government has absolutely failed in its duty to protect our borders. They failed in their duty to do something about illegal immigration, and we're simply going to take current federal law, not anything beyond, and put it on to state books.
–Rep. Stephen Sandstrom
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, and is supported by many other Utah Legislators. But critics say, like the Arizona law, it amounts to little but racial profiling.
The core intent of this bill is still very much like Arizona's illegal-immigration crackdown law. The differences are in fine legal details, meant to adhere to a federal judge's concerns about the Arizona law.
Sandstrom was literally standing alone among a crowed of more than 50 protesters, who heckled him while he detailed the bill. They interrupted several times, armed with signs that said things like "Who would Jesus deport?"
The lawmaker explained his law is an attempt to follow the rule of law, that it's not racist.
"It's not about race. I cannot stress this enough," Sandstrom said. "Illegal is not a race, it's a crime."
The very bill, from the onset, is just awful and violates constitutional principles -- but not that he (Sandstrom) cares about that.
–Gregory Lucero, protestor
Daniel Argueta with Salt Lake City Brown Berets disagrees. "No matter how much he says it's not about race, this targets a specific group of people," he said.
Like Arizona's illegal immigrant crackdown, Sandstrom's Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, as it's officially called, allows law enforcement to detain a person who is stopped for another illegal act. The officer has to have reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien, in the bill's words.
Some called it a watered-down version of Arizona's immigration law.
"We see Sandstrom and this bill just like Arizona S.B. 1070. We're just dealing with S.B. 1070 light here," said Gregory Lucero with the Revolutionary Students Union.
Sandstrom says this bill is not "Arizona light," but he does say it's a legitimate crackdown.
"This bill is not racism, it's just saying that the people of the state, the state of Utah, [are] taking this issue seriously," Sandstrom said. "The federal government has absolutely failed in its duty to protect our borders. They failed in their duty to do something about illegal immigration, and we're simply going to take current federal law, not anything beyond, and put it on to state books."
Sandstrom says his bill discourages racial profiling by stating race is not probable cause. There are also extra status checks to qualify for entitlements, and law enforcement agencies that don't crack down could face a $5,000-a-day fine.
From beginning to end, protesters made it clear they are against the bill, later calling it "ludicrous."
"The very bill, from the onset, is just awful and violates constitutional principles -- but not that he cares about that. And then you have massive criminalization of our communities," said Gregory Lucero, of the Revolutionary Students Union.
Sandstrom defended his bill against accusations that it's antagonistic, saying it's both legal and compassionate to those who are following the letter of the law.