Immigration a hot topic on Capitol Hill by Rep. Brad Dee

Standard-Examiner Guest Commentary by House Majority Leader Brad Dee

For better or worse, this year’s hottest hot topic at the Legislature appears to be immigration. This issue has simmered for many years, sometimes hitting boiling points such as when the state instituted a requirement that undocumented immigrants receive a driving privilege card rather than a drivers’ license a few years ago. Illegal immigration could be more easily addressed at the federal level, but unfortunately, the federal government lacks the courage and political leadership to do so, leaving the issue to the states to handle as they may.
Last year, the Arizona State Legislature passed a controversial piece of in-state immigration legislation, which grabbed the attention of like-minded legislators in Utah. Rep. Stephen Standstrom, R-Orem, has worked to craft his version of an immigration bill.

Since this issue is difficult, complex, and emotional on all sides, Rep. Sanstrom’s efforts have garnered quite a response and generated several other bills on the subject.

The debate seems to be centered on a few key bills or themes, each attempting to tackle the issue from a different perspective. Rep. Sandstrom’s bill is entitled HB 70 Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act and as its title suggests, its key element is an enforcement push by police.

It also includes enforcement provisions for anyone that might try to induce an undocumented immigrant to come to Utah and a requirement that legal status be documented by any state or local government agency offering a license or public benefit of any type.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is currently working on a draft bill that would address the issue from an economic point of view. His bill takes the perspective that undocumented immigrants fill a void in our workforce and seeks to institute a state-run guest worker program.

The program would require the posting of bonds to ensure immigrants return to their native country. Renewal of permits would be contingent on several factors, not least of which is the requirement that a guest worker return home before reapplying. The bill would also provide for the collection of taxes from the workers while in Utah. In order for this bill to be implemented, the federal government would need to grant Utah a waiver authorizing the state to run the program.

Yet another bill seeks to consider the humanitarian angle. Salt Lake City Democrat Sen. Luz Robles’ bill recognizes that undocumented immigrants are here in our community and seeks to bring them out into the open. Though still in draft form, this bill would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a guest worker permit after completing a background check and taking English and civics courses. Federal waivers in several areas would be required in order to implement the provisions in this bill if it were to pass.

Each of the three bills I have outlined has generated spin-offs and some even have companion bills. Recognizing that there were many bills to consider in our short session, the Senate Republican Caucus has suggested that an omnibus bill be created to encompass most of the compatible ideas.

Clearly, not all of the ideas that have been suggested are compatible and we in the House Republican Caucus are eager to see what they might purpose.

One thing is very clear, this issue will demand much debate and discussion before the Legislature will be able to pick the best Utah-specific path on the issue. My continued hope is that the Legislature and the citizens of the state engage in dialogue on this issue, and all issues, with respect and civility. We can disagree without being disagreeable, even on this difficult and personal subject and find Utah solutions.

Rep. Brad Dee is the majority leader in the Utah State House of Representatives. He represents House District 11, which covers portions of Davis and Weber counties.