Nebraska legislators to explore Utah’s immigration laws

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Video and Story by: Danielle Kaster , News Net Nebraska
The Nebraska Legislature may have shelved all immigration bills until next session, but the judiciary committee’s work is not done.

With Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently signing a package of bills similar to those introduced in Nebraska, the committee has decided to see how things will go in Utah. The judiciary committee plans to travel to Utah and speak with different people about the new law’s effectiveness. Nebraska Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the judiciary committee, said the group will study the impact of the Utah law from August 2011 through January 2012.

“We’ll take the ideas that are in the Utah law that did pass and travel the state and get people’s opinion on if that’s a good way to go or not,” said Nebraska Sen. Amanda McGill.

Herbert signed the Utah Compact in March. The package of immigration laws includes an enforcement plan and guest-worker program. The guest-worker program allows immigrants who are in Utah illegally to obtain before May 1 a permit that allows them to live and work in state lawfully.

Utah State Rep. Bill Wright, author of part of the law, said, combining the two approaches deals with the 11 million illegal immigrants nationwide in a more realistic way.

Rep. Bill Wright spoke to Utah House members about the advantages of a guest-worker program. Picture provided by Utah Legislature.

“I’m of the opinion that we really don’t’ have the ability as a society to remove the large a portion of a segment from our society – either the cost, or just the damage it would do,” said Wright.

The estimated number of illegal immigrants in Nebraska is believed to be around 45,000, while the number in Utah is more than double at 110,000 according to Pew Hispanic Center. Illegal immigrants in Utah would be able to obtain a work permit as long as they do not have any criminal history, have proof of health insurance and pay a fine for entering the country unlawfully. Those who do have criminal records would be jailed.

Several opponents who testified against the Illegal Immigration Act at the capitol hope the Nebraska judiciary committee will follow Utah’s example and allow illegal immigrants to remain in the state.

“A lot of these people are intertwined in our society. They have financial obligations. They have bank notes; they’ve bought houses; they contribute; they have jobs,” Wright said.

The adoption of the immigration bills in Utah, however, did not come without controversy. Many in Utah were opposed to the mild enforcement approach.

Utah State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, who originally introduced the enforcement law, said he did not want a worker program anywhere in his bill because he did not support amnesty. Sandstrom voted against his bill when the worker program was amended into it.

“What would be most important is representing the citizens of the United States of America, not a foreign national who has willfully and wantonly broken our laws,” Sandstrom said.

Utah Sen. Stephen Sandstrom refused to support his bill if a guest-worker program was amended into it. Picture provided by Utah Legislature.

Sandstrom is not alone. Nebraska Sen. Charlie Janssen says the new Utah law fails to take the proper enforcement action needed.

“The Utah compact has an enforcement aspect to it but it’s after the felony has been committed, so we’re really not acknowledging that the person has broken the law by coming here illegally,” Janssen said.

Wright believes the Utah Compact was a compromise and a step in the right direction.

“This compromise shows that policy makers are willing to work with one another to get things done,” said Wright.

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