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SALT LAKE CITY — Surrounded by supporters urging the federal government to tackle illegal immigration, Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law Tuesday a series of bills passed by the Utah Legislature that have been described as a "Utah solution" to the issue.
"Utah is doing the right thing, is doing the hard thing. Doing nothing is not an option," Herbert said in a brief signing ceremony in the Capitol's Gold Room attended by business, legislative and religious leaders, including Presiding Bishop H. David Burton of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Asked by a reporter for the LDS Church's public position on the immigration bills, Bishop Burton said the Church had endorsed the Utah Compact. "We feel that the Legislature has done an incredible job on a very complex issue," Burton said. "Our presence here testifies to the fact that we're appreciative of what has happened in the Legislature."
Citizens, leaders continue to voice opposition
Opponents who argue the bills are unconstitutional and would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants were not at the Capitol, although they had been pressuring the governor in past week to veto the bills.
GOP delegates gathered 4,500 signatures urging the governor to veto the bill, calling the move "the worst insult" to legal residents "ever received by their sitting governor."
"We cannot support any of our elected leaders who have either supported this bill, drafted this bill or signed it," said GOP delegate Brandon Beckham.
Meanwhile, Legal Immigrants for Illegal Immigration Enforcement decried Herbert's decision to sign the bills, particularly HB116, the guest worker bill.
Arturo Morales-Llan, a GOP delegate and coalition founder, said in a statement that the Herbert's signature of HB116 "is the worst insult the legal residents of Utah have ever received by their sitting governor! HB116 is typical Washington-style politics and we condemn its practice by our elected officials. This new law puts a stamp of approval on illegal immigration and those who come into this country illegally. This fatally flawed law confirms that Utah is a sanctuary state."
Morales-Llan said Herbert chose to ignore the will of the people. An online petition to veto HB116, which was signed by 4,500 people, "made it clear that they do not approve of HB116 and would rather see enforcement of laws against illegal immigration."
The Legislature's own attorneys have deemed the guest worker and immigrants sponsorship programs unconstitutional, meaning the state would need a waiver from the federal government to put them into practice.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he has been in discussions with the Obama administration regarding the state's desire to work cooperatively with the federal government to obtain the necessary waivers, exemptions or authorizations to implement the Utah laws, which will not go into effect until July 2013.
The eyes of the nation are on the "reddest of the red states" for its take on reforming immigration laws, Shurtleff said. "They are looking at Utah as a model to do that," he said.
Leaders criticize federal government
While the governor and legislative leaders commended the process and the goodwill of divergent voices in seeking compromise on the package of bills, all called out the federal government for shirking its responsibility in addressing the issue.
"It's time you (federal government) step up and do what you're constitutionally mandated to do," said Rep. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.
Already, state lawmakers had reached out to Utah's congressional delegation to urge their assistance in seeking the needed waivers to put Utah law into effect. More so, they want Congress to provide federal solutions to the issues.
In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, legislative leaders urged him, as a member of the congressional delegation, to "help the State of Utah in obtaining the necessary waivers, exemptions or authorizations required to establish the Guest Worker Program in accordance with this bill."
The letter goes on to say, "Naturally, we would prefer that the United States Congress craft a workable solution to the nation's immigration issues. Absent that, the next best option is to allow states the freedom to innovate and build policies that would work locally and my provide insight to the rest of the nation."
Bills result of much compromise
Herbert, who described the issue of immigration as "difficult, emotional and complex," acknowledged that not all the key players in the legislative debate and community were pleased with final package of bills. "I suspect all of us up here don't agree with everything that's in each and every bill," he said referring the lawmakers, community leaders, business representatives and religious leaders who attended the bill signing.
Senate President Mike Waddoups said legislation was a testament to the give-and-take process of making laws. "The end product you see on the table today that the governor is about to sign is not where we began," Waddoups said.
Utah has taken the lead and I'm proud of us for asking the tough questions.
–House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart
Waddoups said the new laws did not grant amnesty nor would they result in racial profiling. The bills were not carbon copies of bills passed in Arizona, Oklahoma or Missouri. "We're not following the path. We have a Utah solution."
House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said she was proud of lawmakers who "rolled up their sleeves" and took on one of most vexing issues of the day amid intense criticism from people "who had no answers of their own."
"Utah has taken the lead and I'm proud of us for asking the tough questions," she said.
Police chief discusses immigration
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, responding to the bill signing, said he looks forward to the day that Congress provides a federal solution to the nation's immigration issues.
The immigration debate itself has been divisive and hurtful. "It's brought racial hatred to the surface and police are caught in the middle."
Burbank said an illegal immigrant injured in an industrial accident died because his friends were afraid to seek emergency treatment for fear they would be turned over to immigration authorities.
That makes Burbank wonder how many other people fear contacting police when they are victims of crime. "We (law enforcement) should be there for everybody. If we're not, we're not doing our job," Burbank said.