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SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed migrant worker partnership between Utah and a state in Mexico drew high praise and little criticism in a legislative committee meeting Thursday.
Members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved a bill that would create a program to bring workers from Nuevo Leon to the state. [HB466](The Interfaith Prayer Service for Utah Immigrants "HB466 bill page"), sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, now moves to the House for consideration.
"This is a brilliant move," said Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo. "I think it will bring people out of the shadows."
The bill would create a 28-member commission to develop a plan to bring migrant workers to Utah on federal work visas and authorize the governor to form an agreement with the Mexican state. The commission would evaluate the program after one year to determine whether to invite workers from other countries.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the Mexican consul general will be in Utah on Friday to discuss the project. Nuevo Leon previously worked with Arizona until it passed a controversial illegal immigration enforcement measure.
Mexican officials have some concerns about Sandstrom's enforcement bill as well, Shurtleff said. But "his enforcement bill really isn't the Arizona enforcement bill."
Sandstrom, who has been vilified for his stance on illegal immigrants, said he's using the migrant worker bill as a "launching point" to let people know he's not anti-immigrant.
Alex Segura, of the Utah Minuteman Project, spoke against the bill. He told the committee that corruption and drug cartels rule in Mexico.
"What makes us think there will be integrity in the process?" he said, adding he can see cartels using the program as a ruse to get drug dealers into the country. "Why not look at training programs for citizens who are here now?"
Shurtleff said Nuevo Leon has a good track record for providing migrant workers. It closely monitors visas, has a 98 percent return rate and contacts ICE if workers don't leave when expected, he said.
House passes resident sponsor bill
HB466 wasn't the only bill the Legislature discussed Thursday that would bring immigrants to Utah legally.
Also Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed HB469, which would create a program allowing residents to sponsor up to two individuals or a family from a foreign country to live in Utah. Legislative attorneys say the bill would be unconstitutional because immigration is the purview of the federal government. It also would cost an estimated $1.3 million to implement.
Senate hears Robles' bill
The Senate, too, took up an illegal immigration bill, though only out of courtesy.
It is clear that Sen. Luz Robles' measure calling for accountability through state-issued work permits won't pass. The Senate initially snubbed but later reconsidered the Salt Lake Democrat's request to present her bill to the body.
Robles said the spirit of her bill remains relevant though it's not going anywhere. Some aspects may be incorporated into other legislation.