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Friday, September 29, 2023


Modest bill reaches to both political parties

Given the present political climate, genuine compromise over a contentious issue is rare. But the state of Utah is making a commendable attempt to reach a middle ground on the subject of illegal immigration.

Utah’s Legislature recently passed a pair of bills that would allow the state to issue temporary work permits to illegal immigrants while at the same time granting local law enforcement greater ability to determine the legal status of criminals.

Together, the bills seek to appease those who favor strict deportation policies and those who argue for some form of amnesty.

While the bills do nothing to deter illegal immigration, they are a practical approach to dealing with undocumented workers who are already in the country.

The guest worker bill is far from being outright amnesty in that the permit is only valid for two years and has a set list of requirements. The key among them is a mandatory criminal background check that would ensure that public safety is not compromised.

Of course, an illegal immigrant by definition is a criminal, but there is a clear distinction between misdemeanor offenses and felonies. Federal law classifies illegal entry into the US as a misdemeanor offense.

While offenders face the possibility of both prison time and monetary fines, the infraction itself is on par with driving without a license. Violent offenders, thieves, drug smugglers and the like would all be excluded from the program and subject to immediate arrest.

In addition, the law would require the applicant to pay a fine of up to $2,500. This is hardly a free pass and is ten times more than the fine mandated by the existing federal law.

Finally, immigrant workers would be required to learn English within one year of being issued their permit or face dismissal from the program. Taken as whole, this bill both enhances security and promotes the integration of foreigners.

The proposed law simply recognizes the reality that the economy depends on immigrant workers. As proof, the Utah Legislature has also proposed setting up a partnership with Nuevo Leon State in Mexico to bring temporary farm workers to the state. Such a program would become less necessary if the illegal immigrants already present were given temporary worker status.

As it stands now, there is an open job market that is going unfilled by US citizens.

Those in opposition of the guest worker bill argue that the criminal element would remain a problem because law enforcement officials are prevented from determining the legal status of those they arrest.

To address this concern, a second bill would grant police the authority to verify the immigration status of anyone they detain for felonies and misdemeanors. In combination with the previous bill, there would actually be increased security in the work force and in society as a whole.

There are over 11 million illegal immigrants in the US today, and a significant portion of our economy depends on the work that they alone perform.

Utah’s proposed bills recognize these contributions and at the same time, they minimize the risk of hiring truly dangerous criminals.

The work permit program should be viewed not as a reward for breaking the law, but rather as a state-side approach to evaluating and screening immigrants that would otherwise go unchecked.

A similar bill has been proposed by Republican lawmakers in Texas, and one would hope that other states follow in putting forth practical and reasonable immigration laws.

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