Legislators preparing alternative immigration bill for Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Another immigration bill is in the works on Utah's Capitol Hill. Monday, two Latina legislators said they're working on an alternative to an Arizona-type enforcement proposal, unveiled last week by Sen. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, are teaming up on this bill. Currently there aren't any concrete details about this competing immigration bill because it hasn't been written yet.

We need to find a solution ourselves, but it has to be within our purview and jurisdiction. (Sandstrom's) bill violates so much of the Constitution that it's concerning, and we will be facing lawsuits with that kind of legislation.

–Luz Robles

Robles and Chavez-Houck claim Sandstrom's bill has too many problems to go unanswered, and Robles says there are serious legal problems with the bill. They hope they can tone down some of the sharp emotions attached to the immigration issue.

The pair also says the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act will be too expensive to enact.

"Utah will be responsible of transporting the individuals they detain, and that's obviously again a cost issue," Robles said. "Not having the funds to even address our education crisis, I'm not sure how Rep. Sandstrom was hoping to pay for that. You also have the unfunded mandate to law enforcement of now having this double role."

Specifically, the lawmakers worry about the cost for police agencies in a new "double role" for jails, public defenders and for social services of children who are caught in the middle.

"I do have concerns with children of detainees," Chavez-Houck said. "How will DCFS handle that? Issues of public defenders' office, if we ratchet up penalties?"

What Robles and Chavez-Houck can say about their upcoming proposal is that it will focus on enforcement and guidelines under state control.

"We understand that the federal government has not found a solution, and we can't rely on that. We need to find a solution ourselves, but it has to be within our purview and jurisdiction," Robles said. "(Sandstrom's) bill violates so much of the Constitution that it's concerning, and we will be facing lawsuits with that kind of legislation."


"A variety of different questions we need to look at with a very critical eye, as we look at solutions again that are common sense versus reactionary," said Chavez-Houck.

Monday's news conference to announce this alternative bill went without the heckling and interruptions that marked Sandstrom's unveiling of his bill last week, but the emotions over this issue are still simmering.

Both lawmakers denounced the heckling that occurred when Sandstrom was presenting his bill last week.

"Not appropriate, not the way they were talking and screaming at him," Robles said. "I would hope that doesn't happen to me."

Rep. Paul Ray, (R) Clearfield, agreed. "I thought it was completely uncalled for, for the way he was treated. And it shows how this debate is," he said. "If you want to stand up for what the laws are in Utah, the opposition has no problem coming after you."

The competing news conferences and competing bills show the sharp differences that exist in the state on the issue.

Sandstrom is expected to give his bill its first public hearing on Wednesday. Among other things, it requires state workers to verify the immigration status of those who apply for state benefits. Robles said it's unclear who will pay to train state workers to handle that or how such training would occur.

Robles says it will be at least a month before her bill is ready. She says she's been talking to Sandstrom and giving him her input on his bill, too.


Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt, Nkoyo Iyamba and The Associated Press.

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