Immigration was one of the top issues in the 2011 Utah Legislative session, which concluded last week. Contrary to early predictions, Utah did not adopt a carbon-copy of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. In fact, even the “enforcement” legislation, which got so much attention before the session, passed only after it was amended to remove language that some feared would lead to racial profiling. In addition, the Utah legislature also passed bills providing for a guest worker program (which will require federal approval) and a worker exchange program with Nueva Leon, Mexico. At the end of the day, Utah’s “omnibus” approach was seen by many as a kinder, gentler version of state immigration policy. (We hope our constitutional-expert readers will forgive that term). Some, however, take a more cynical view of Utah’s efforts in this arena, and Latino groups have called for a boycott of Utah businesses through March 28.
And the political drama over Utah’s immigration legislation is not over, either. None of these immigration bills have yet been signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Governor Herbert has until March 30 to sign or veto the bills. Alternatively, he can allow the bills to take effect without his signature. Governor Herbert signaled his support and approval for the “omnibus” immigration package, noting that it comports with views he had previously articulated, and with the Utah Compact, which contains guidelines on immigration policy proposed by a diverse group of Utah community, business and religious leaders and groups. Nevertheless, Governor Herbert is being pressured by groups who seek stronger immigration enforcement to veto the guest worker legislation, which they fear will attract undocumented workers to Utah.
Most predict that the Utah immigration bills will take effect. That will probably not be the end of the story, however. The scene may simply change to Washington or the courts.
UPDATE: Governor Herbert today (3/15) signed all four immigration passed by the Utah legislature. According to news reports, Utah officials are already in discussions with the White House and members of Congress regarding federal waivers that would allow Utah’s guest worker program to operate constitutionally.