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SALT LAKE CITY -- The idea of a guest worker program has been mentioned as part of a new illegal immigration bill. Utah's attorney general and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce have been working together on the issue.
Both Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and leaders of the Salt Lake Chamber agree that the main reason illegal immigrants come to Utah is for the work. They say a harsh, Arizona-type law would negatively impact our state economy.
"Whatever response we have that's going to work will have to address the economic issues," Shurtleff says. "An enforcement-only-type bill, which is what Representative Sandstrom is recommending, what Arizona did -- that's not the answer because that just drives people into the shadows."
Instead, Shurtleff wants to frame a bill around a guest worker program that works with the federal government.
Shurtleff says he wants to work within the federal H-2 Visa program. His idea is a one-year pilot program between a Mexican state and Utah. The temporary visas would not be given to undocumented workers who are already here, but those coming to work in the state.
"The hospitality industry, construction trades, farmers, dairy men; they all say they need these migrant workers; but we want them to use legal migrant workers, not illegal ones," Shurtleff says.
The Salt Lake Chamber agrees with implementing a similar guest worker program. However, they'd like to see the people who are already here working stay here and continue their work.
"The program is really a way to say, ‘You're already here contributing. Let's bring you out of the shadows. Let's make sure that you can continue to contribute, but do so in a way where you can feel like a productive member of the community," says Marty Carpenter, of the Salt Lake Chamber.
The Chamber's Employment-Based Work Program would require a person to register with the state and submit to a background check. He or she would also have to agree to give the Utah Tax Commission 10 percent of his or her earnings, which will be refunded once they complete the permit process. All workers would also need health and car insurance.
The Chamber is working with the Attorney General's Office, but it says it's open to hearing out other ideas as well.