Utah Leaders Balk at Arizona-esque Immigration Enforcement Bill

With midterm election campaigning well underway, some local candidates are lifting up state and local immigration enforcement legislation as a means to garner public support. Unfortunately, as is often the case when politics meets reality, not everyone is on board with local enforcement laws like Arizona’s SB1070—key provisions of which were enjoined by a federal district judge in late July. Over the last few months, state leaders in Ohio, Idaho, Nebraska and Houston have either heavily edited or voted not to pursue state immigration measures, citing costly lawsuits, court battles and the dubious constitutionality of such laws. This month, state leaders in Utah are also balking at an immigration measure modeled on the controversial Arizona law.

Utah made headlines in July when state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom vowed to move forward on a local immigration enforcement bill in light of the DOJ lawsuit against Arizona’s SB1070. Sandstrom’s bill—the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act—would require Utah police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is undocumented. Also recall that shortly thereafter, a vigilante group called “The Concerned Citizens of the United States” published a list of 1,300 alleged unauthorized immigrants—including birth dates, workplaces, and social security numbers—accompanied by a letter instructing government agencies to “begin deportation now.” Although the Utah Attorney General and Governor condemned the list, and pledged to work for more comprehensive immigration solutions, Rep. Sandstrom continues to pursue his enforcement measure.

Last week, Rep. Sandstrom led a delegation of Utah lawmakers on a field trip to gauge public sentiment on immigration and found “popular support for Arizona’s controversial legislation.” Some Utah legislators, however, aren’t buying it. They join a host of other state lawmakers who question whether implementing a local immigration enforcement law is worth the economic and political fallout.

Michael Clara, chair of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, likens Sandstrom’s bill to a “witch hunt.” Clara also said the measure stands in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, would cause a negative economic impact and punishes “a single group of people” rather than the unscrupulous employers who hire undocumented workers. Furthermore, Clara contends that he doesn’t see a lot of public support for the bill in Utah:

“Unless I’m blind, I’m just not seeing a lot of support for this. I think it’s just the fringes and the extreme right that supports what he is doing.” Clara says. “There is more support nationally on what he is doing than what he is going to get locally. Sandstrom’s bill is going nowhere. It’s dead as far as I can see.”

Similarly, Utah Democratic senator Luz Robles said the bill is “fiscally irresponsible” and worries, like many other state legislators, that the bill would be too costly if passed—and for good reason. Arizona, with a state budget deficit of roughly $4.5 million, is spending thousands on a PR campaign to boost Arizona tourism which has sharply declined since the passage of SB 1070. Fremont, Nebraska, is currently considering a property tax increase proposal to help shoulder the projected legal fees resulting from the city’s restrictive immigration ordinance. Similarly, Farmers Branch, Texas and Hazleton, Pennsylvania have spent millions of dollars defending their restrictive immigration laws in court. Now that a Federal Appeals Court has ruled that Hazleton’s law is unenforceable, many of its citizens must be wondering if the law was worth its hefty price tag.

So while state and local immigration enforcement measures continue to create a splash for politicians seeking the limelight, the benefit appears short-lived if they take the time to see what these “popular enforcement laws” are costing other states, both economically and politically.

Photo by qbac07.

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