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SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan effort Wednesday to create a migrant worker program between Utah and a state in Mexico.
The proposal is the first to unite the various factions in the state's divisive debate over illegal immigration. Democrats and Republicans joined Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to announce the proposed Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration Act.
"I think this is a great way to come together to meet the demands of the marketplace," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who along with Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, will sponsor HB466.
This does not affect citizenship. This is truly a work program.
–Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero
The two legislators have taken different approaches to illegal immigration legislation that sometimes puts them at odds.
Shurtleff said the new bill does not supplant or replace any of the measures going forward.
"There's not a deal in the sense that I'll support Sen. Bramble's bill if he supports mine. That's not the case," Sandstrom said. "The agreement is that we've been working closer together. I've made a few changes to my bill, he's made a few changes to his bill."
The bill would create a 27-member commission comprised of legislative leaders in both parties, legislators, the attorney general, state department heads and residents. It would study the economic, legal, cultural and educational impact of illegal immigration and develop a plan to use migrant workers in the state.
It also would authorize the governor to negotiate an agreement with the state of Nuevo Leon in Mexico to provide workers to Utah. The project would be evaluated after a year to determine whether the state should consider agreements with other countries.
"They are waiting and ready to come to this country," Shurtleff said.
Nuevo Leon sends more workers to the United States on non-immigrant visas than anywhere in the world, he said. Utah officials said they had no idea how many workers the program might attract. The visas are good for six months to a year.
Officials from the Mexican state approached Utah about an agreement after Arizona approved a controversial illegal immigration bill. "They said they reached a logjam of red tape," Shurtleff said.
The program would operate under current federal immigration law and would not require approval from Washington. Shurtleff said he sent the plan to the White House, Department of Homeland Security and State Department to look over.
"This does not affect citizenship. This is truly a work program," said Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake.
Any Utah employer could hire the migrant workers after showing the jobs could not be filled by American workers.
"This is another avenue to make up for the need of a migrant workforce in the state of Utah," Sandstrom said.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said even though the heated debate on illegal immigration has divided Utahns, some common ground has emerged.
"HB466 is taking the common ground and implementing it," he said.
The bill has the support of disparate groups including the tea party, the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration and Proyecto Latino de Utah. It is scheduled for a legislative committee hearing Thursday evening.