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Utah Legislature passes immigration reform package

By JOSH LOFTIN
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 5:35 AM

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers have approved an immigration package that includes an enforcement law reminiscent of Arizona's but tempered with a guest worker program for illegal immigrants.

The immigration measures approved by both chambers Friday night would allow illegal immigrants to get a permit to work in Utah. But they also include a requirement that police check the immigrant status of anyone stopped for a felony or serious misdemeanor.

Supporters say the entire package balances economic needs and compassion, while opponents argue it will likely encourage more illegal immigration.

Lawmakers initially balked at the enforcement measure, HB 497, because of what some viewed as a likely backlash. But sponsor Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, garnered enough support for passage after amending it to focus on more serious crimes.

The Arizona law approved last year drew nationwide controversy over provisions requiring police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion they're here illegally. That aspect of the law was put on hold by a federal judge.

The Senate sponsor, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said it was a "Utah effort" that distanced the state from criticisms leveled at Arizona's law.

Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, the sponsor of the bill creating the guest worker program, HB 116, said if the state can secure a federal waiver the program could become a model for the entire country.

It would allow illegal immigrants to get a permit to live and work in Utah with their families.

The most vocal critic, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said a guest worker program would draw more illegal immigrants to Utah.

"People think we'll be seen as compassionate," Herrod said. "People will actually see us as weak. They will see we don't care about the rule of law."

Other measures in the package easily passed the two chambers.

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Associated Press reporter Chi-Chi Zhang contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Associated Press