Illegal immigration has been a hot topic for many years now, most recently in light of Arizona’s new laws to try to deal with the problems they face. Early last year, Representative Stephen Sandstrom, of the Utah Legislature, drafted legislation that would attempt to deal with illegal immigration in Utah. Since the bill was first introduced, it has undergone many revisions and was finally heard in committee this last week as House Bill 70. We passed it out of committee on a 9-3 vote.
Ultimately this bill is an enforcement-only bill that requires law enforcement to verify lawful presence of those suspected of felonies and class A misdemeanors—the worst kind of crimes. If a suspect’s lawful presence in the country cannot be verified, law enforcement will contact ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and they will be given the prerogative to pick up the illegal immigrant or not. Often times ICE will not pick them up unless they are already wanted as a criminal re-entrant. So, this bill would engage local law enforcement in verifying lawful presence and assisting ICE in deporting those they’ve targeted for deportation.
The sponsor sees the bill as a deterrent to illegal immigration. There are a few reasons that we might want to deter illegal immigration. For example, the costs incurred by the state to educate, provide services, and incarcerate undocumented persons are great. As one example, the Legislative Auditor General did a study and found that the costs of educating undocumented children in the state of Utah for fiscal year 2006 ranged between 54.9 and 85.4 million dollars from state and local tax revenue (does not include federal funds). Some estimates are that those costs currently reach between 120 and 140 million dollars. Additionally, as of January 2011, illegal aliens account for 5.88% of inmate population in Utah. In 2009 ICE detained inmates in Utah cost the state almost 20 million dollars. Perhaps most concerning is that illegal immigrants often spend their lives “living in the shadows” of our society, unable and unwilling to avail themselves of the full benefits of citizenship in this country and the protections of the law. I sat for several years on the Cache Valley Multi-Cultural Center Board of Directors. My experience there tells me that when immigrants come to this country legally and learn the language and assimilate to the customs, culture, and laws of this country they stand the greatest chance for success for themselves and their children.
Despite what others will say about this bill, I don’t believe the new would-be laws will offer much in the way of deterrents. Illegal immigration happens because there is a market for their labor and the front door is broken. However, I voted for HB70 in committee because I feel like it is focused on targeting and deporting those illegal immigrants who are committing the worst kind of crimes in our state.