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Children, activists urge governor to veto illegal immigration bills

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - Mar. 8, 2011 at 5:33 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- While shaking Gov. Gary Herbert's hand, kindergartner Alex Navarro delivered a message: "I don't want to separate families."

"I don't want to either," Herbert replied.

Alex was among a dozen children of undocumented immigrants and several adults who showed up outside the governor's office hoping to hand him letters about the enforcement-only illegal immigration bill lawmakers passed last week. Herbert emerged from his office for a few minutes to greet the youngsters and listen to what they had to say.

"My grandpa really likes you. So I think you are a good guy. Please don't sign HB497 because it will hurt my community," 8-year-old Cuouhtemoc Barrientos read from his handwritten letter.

"I applaud you for being involved and letting me know your feelings," Herbert said. "We're trying to decide right now what to do."

Governor weighing illegal immigration

The children's message was one of several about illegal immigration in Utah delivered Tuesday. Another group launched a campaign against a state guest worker program, while Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was in Washington, D.C., touting the Utah Compact and Utah's comprehensive approach to the issue.

Herbert has on his desk a package of illegal immigration bills the Legislature approved late Friday. In addition to enforcement and a guest worker program, they call for a migrant worker partnership with Mexico and employee verification and employer sanctions.

That package grew by one Tuesday. Lawmakers have now approved HB469 which allows Utahns to sponsor immigrants to live, study or work in Utah. Immigrants would have to undergo background and health screenings. The sponsor would be financially responsible for the individual. Legislative attorneys say the program is unconstitutional because only the federal government can admit people into the country.

HB497 requires police to check the immigration status of people they arrest for felonies and serious misdemeanors. Officers may check the status of those suspected of less serious misdemeanors.

Latinos, both legal and illegal, are "very fearful" of what the law might do, said Santiago Dirzo, of United for Social Justice, which brought the children to the Capitol. "Now they have to look over their shoulder to make sure they're not discriminated against," he said.

Activists want Herbert to veto HB116

While Herbert met with the children, a groups of activists opposed to the guest worker program plotted their strategy in a board room across the hall from his office. They don't want the governor to sign HB116. More than that, they want him to veto it. And they're mounting an e-mail campaign to get his his attention.

"The bottom line is that this bill is so inherently flawed that it cannot be fixed," said Ron Mortensen, founder the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration.

He contends those committing felonies such as gang members and drug dealers who haven't been convicted to obtain guest worker permits.

According to the bill, illegal immigrants would have to undergo a criminal background check and pay up to a $2,500 fine to obtain a guest worker permit that would be good for two years. Legislative attorneys say it is unconstitutional The program needs federal approval and is not scheduled to take effect until July 2013.

E-mail:dromboy@ksl.com

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