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Aug 22: Utah's illegal immigration debate


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In this Sunday Edition, the illegal immigration debate heats up in Utah. KSL's Richard Piatt explores issues and possible solutions with Sen. Luz Robles, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, Cherilyn Eagar and Mark Alvarez.

Segment 1: Perspectives from Lawmakers

Arizona's tough immigration bill was signed into law in April. That turned the heat up on the debate in Utah. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, is the first to propose an illegal immigration enforcement bill in the Beehive State. The release of the bill brings emotion from both sides. It has also prompted other lawmakers to consider complimentary and counter-proposals.

Joining Sunday Edition to discuss their solutions and ideas on the issue of illegal immigration are Sandstrom and Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City.

Sandstrom's Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act provides:

  • Officer checks status under "reasonable suspicion" if already arrested
  • Race/color may not be considered
  • Status verified for government services, benefits and licenses
  • Penalties for police agencies who don't comply
  • Broadens police power for immigration enforcement


The enforcement of immigration will not take place at the state level, it has to go back to the feds. For many of us the concern is a fiscal concern.

–Sen Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City


Sandstrom's bill focuses on enforcement. Robles is working on creating a plan with three pieces: enforcement, business and humane components.

"I think enforcement will have to be part of this complimentary approach but by itself is not going to work," Robles says. "The enforcement of immigration will not take place at the state level, it has to go back to the feds. For many of us the concern is a fiscal concern."

"With the limited resources of homeland security, an only-enforcement bill is not going to work. That's why the comprehensive approach of dealing with the realities of our economic drive, fair market and labor force that we need in the state of Utah," explains Robles.

One of the major concerns of opponents to Sandstrom's bill is cost. He says his plan will not actually cost the state anything and he believes that it is important to also consider the cost of illegal immigration.

"We need to look at the cost of illegal immigration in the state of Utah currently. FAIR just put out a very comprehensive study about the cost of illegal immigration to the state and they took into account the taxes paid by illegal aliens and still estimated that it costs the state of Utah $453 million a year," Sandstrom explains. "Talking to several chiefs of police and law enforcement officers, they are really saying that my bill will not have any additional costs to enforce my bill. Law enforcement is law enforcement."


Talking to several chiefs of police and law enforcement officers, they are really saying that my bill will not have any additional costs to enforce my bill. Law enforcement is law enforcement.

–Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem


He says when someone is booked for another crime it is just additional paperwork to follow his bill.

"It is going to allow us to look into and identify the criminal element in the illegal community that is out there," says Sandstrom. "It is going to be an extra tool for law enforcement. And quite frankly, I have heard from ICE agents who have e-mailed me and said this is a duty of state law enforcement agencies and they actually welcome the cooperation between agencies."

Robles says much of this bill is already the law and believes there will be additional cost.

"It's already taking place that when someone gets incarcerated or you're in jail, you are already going to have a match with homeland security... you already have this process taking place," says Robles. "What it is doing is now saying to an, for example, UHP officer to now actually be booking someone who is speeding, and maybe only speeding by five miles, but just because they couldn't prove their immigration status are now going to take an hour and a half and book this individual instead of being on the roads where we need them."

Both lawmakers agree, we want criminals off the streets.

"Nobody disagrees with Rep. Sandstrom that criminals that are committing crimes in our communities should be taken care of and I think that homeland security is proactive in working with local law enforcement," says Robles.

Segment 2: Perspectives from Advocates

The debate on illegal immigration reaches far beyond Capitol Hill. Many advocates are weighing in across the state and across the nation. Cherilyn Eagar from the Coalition on Illegal Immigration, and Mark Alvarez, an immigration attorney, join Sunday Edition to offer their perspectives.

There is concern that Sandstrom's bill is unconstitutional.


I think that it is appropriate to ask the federal government to act but I see it as a waste of state time and state resources to address this issue which ultimately is going to have to be addressed at the federal level.

–Mark Alvarez


"Under the constitution the powers over naturalization, foreign commerce and sovereignty, immigration is clearly under federal authority. States can in some ways compliment federal law but they cannot contradict it," explains Alvarez. "I think that it is appropriate to ask the federal government to act but I see it as a waste of state time and state resources to address this issue which ultimately is going to have to be addressed at the federal level."

Eagar has heard the constitutional arguments but believes that the states can deal with immigration issues.


That's what this ultimately comes down to, is protecting ourselves. The state of Utah has every right to protect the people here and to know who the people are who are residing here.

–Cherilyn Eagar


"Under our Constitution, it is 'of the people, by the people and for the people,' and when the federal government is not stepping up to the plate and doing their job to protect us, it is their job to provide national security and so forth and that's not happening, then 'we the people' do have that right to stand up and speak out and protect ourselves," says Eagar. "That's what this ultimately comes down to, is protecting ourselves. The state of Utah has every right to protect the people here and to know who the people are who are residing here."

Alvarez agrees states play a part in immigration but not under the current system.

"States have a role. But states have a role in a reformed immigration system. The immigration system we have now is broken and so bringing the states in is not going to reform that system," Alvarez explains. "Before we coordinate state action with federal action on enforcement and benefits we need to reform the system. It's broken. It's a static system that largely has been in place since the 1960s. It needs to be made more dynamic and needs to be brought up to today's economic and societal realities."

Eagar supports fines on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. She is concerned about employers treating people like slaves and forms of human trafficking.

"We want people to come here legally," says Eagar. "I support people coming to this country who want to be here and want to be part of American society."

There is concern that many immigration plans could break up families.

"A lot of people are scared. There is panic. This really for me is a values issue," says Alvarez. "Why in Utah, where we are a very welcoming state, are we going to pass a bill that would be very unfriendly to a part of our community, a part of our community that is vulnerable but a part of our community that is part of Utah and is also contributing here?"

"We need to treat people humanely," agrees Eagar. "But we also need to make sure that we are upholding the rule of law."

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