Utahns who have an opinion of the Utah Compact’s approach to immigration reform like the idea, a new survey shows.
But even though the civic and religious leaders who drew up and support the compact have been pushing it for months, many Utahns still don’t know enough about it to have an opinion, or haven’t heard of it at all, a new UtahPolicy/Opinionology survey shows.
Wednesday afternoon Utah Senate Republicans met behind closed doors in caucus to discuss immigration.
And hours later Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, called reporters together to outline what he terms his “Utah Compact” comprehensive immigration legislation.
It will incorporate several other already-introduced immigration bills, moderate some of their ideas, enhance others, but is still a “kinder, gentlier” Utah solution to the illegal immigration problem – as Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, put it.
With just two weeks left in the 45-day 2011 Legislature, if the majority party is going to come up with some kind of comprehensive immigration policy – and leaders have said all along that they planned to – then things have got to get moving.
“We’re working on it,” said Jenkins. The Bramble bill “is a big proposal,” and Senate Republicans “are going to stew over it” for at least a few days before conclusions start to be drawn.
Meanwhile, rumor persists that the House’s main illegal immigration enforcement bill – HB70 by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem – is not even going to get a public hearing in the Senate. HB70 will be held in the Senate Rules Committee, sources say, and its major provisions will be folded into Bramble’s.
The same fate likely awaits the main guest-worker bill, HB116 by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden. After hours of debate the House passed HB116 Wednesday afternoon 43-28 – with a number of House conservatives voting against it because it seems to be a path of current illegals to, in essence, become legal guest workers recognized by the state of Utah.
Bramble told reporters that much of Wright’s guest worker bill will be folded into his comprehensive measure, but with some penalties not found in HB116.
For example, like Wright’s bill, an illegal would have to prove that he was in Utah for two years, had no criminal history or outstanding warrants. But Bramble would have him pay a $2,500 fine.
If he otherwise was approved for the guest worker program – which doesn’t start until 2013 anyway (sooner if Utah can get a federal waiver to start such a program), then he could work at a job that no citizen wants.
If Bramble’s bill wins the same support that the Utah Compact measure has – including backing by leaders of the LDS Church and other leading Utahns and organizations – then it will be a formidable measure to oppose.
But those concrete steps are yet to be taken – Bramble had a secret draft of his bill with him, but it has not yet been formally introduced.
Sandstrom and his supporters say they don’t want to be part of a compromise bill – asking that HB70 be passed on its own.
It seems at this point – as the GOP House debates and passes individual immigration bills – that Republicans in the Senate will be driving the immigration solution. At least that is what GOP sources in the Senate are saying.
And, speaking strictly politically, that may be the safest approach.
Only half of the 29-member Senate is up for re-election every two years – senators serving four-year terms. House members serve two-year terms, so all 75 will be facing voters in 2012.
And Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, has already said that he won’t be running for re-election again in 2012. He says he’s not planning on running for any other political office then, either.
That means Waddoups can evenly steer the immigration debate in the Senate without concerns of facing conservative, perhaps angry, GOP delegates in 2012.
If a more moderate enforcement approach is wished than Sandstrom’s HB70 (which, admittedly, has been greatly watered down since he first proposed it last August), then something along the guidelines of the Utah Compact – and Bramble’s bill -- may be desired.
You can read about the Utah Compact and see who has signed on as supporters here.
A key difference between the two is that HB70 still puts heavy weight on local law officers, with “reasonable suspicion,” questioning a person stopped for another violation of law (like a traffic stop) to try to determine the person’s identification, and, if found to be an illegal, take them in if they have just violated a Class A misdemeanor or a felony, or if they are already wanted for such a crime.
Bramble says his bill will do away with “reasonable suspicion,” saying law officers “shall” try to verify legal status under Class A and felony situations if the person has no valid I.D. But -- and this is key -- the illegal alien can show a valid Utah driver’s privilege card – a card that Bramble co-sponsored in 2005. And in getting that valid card, the illegal immigrant will be getting a criminal background check, as well.
Taking an overall view, said Bramble, his comprehensive bill, which he has drafted over weeks’ consulting many groups of folks, will bring illegals out from their hidden lives, get them paying taxes, get criminals identified and removed from Utah streets and help “good families” contributing to Utah stop breaking the illegal status laws.
And the new poll shows Bramble and his supporters may have Utahns thinking like they are.
The new Opinionology survey finds that 39 percent of Utahns favor the Utah Compact; 24 percent oppose it; 21 percent have heard of it, but have no opinion; and 14 percent have never heard of it.
When you cut down to Republicans, the politically conservatives and members of the LDS Church, the numbers get better for Compact support.
The pollster found that 43 percent of Republicans favor the Compact, only 17 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of it.
Likewise, 43 percent of those who classify themselves as “conservative” politically favor the Compact, 19 percent oppose it.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favor the compact, and around 80 percent of the 104 part-time legislators are practicing Mormons.
Opinionology finds that 42 percent of Utah Mormons support the Compact, while 20 percent of Mormons oppose it.
You can read the church’s stand on the Compact here.
There are around a dozen to 15 bills that could, in some way, deal with illegal immigration and/or guest worker programs or other issues surrounding illegal immigrants (like letting their children, if educated in Utah, pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities).
There could be constitutional concerns on several approaches, since the U.S. Constitution clearly says the federal government controls our boarders and immigration issues.
But Congress has repeatedly refused to deal with the question of illegal immigration – and Sandstrom, Bramble, Wright and other lawmakers say the more-than-140,000 illegal immigrants living in Utah must be dealt with in some manner.
Even those who want tougher enforcement, however, like Wright, want some kind of guest-worker program so immigrants can come into Utah, be identified and tracked, as they work tough jobs that most Utahns just won’t do. But such a state-wide guest worker program may be unconstitutional, also.
House opponents to HB116 pointed out in debate Wednesday that there are no federal laws that even allow for a state guest-worker waiver. And so if Wright’s plan takes effect in 2013, illegal immigrants may be coming forward, letting Utah authorities identify them, only to be rounded up later by federal immigration authorities and deported. That isn’t happening now, points out Wright (only illegal immigrant criminals are being deported by the federal government), although he couldn’t promise that it wouldn’t happen in the future.
Last Friday the House voted 58-15 to advance HB70 to the Senate. You can see how representatives voted here.
Of interest, all House Republicans voted for the bill, along with two Democrats – Reps. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, and Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley.
In a way, the “yes” votes for HB70 were, politically speaking, throw-away votes. That’s because it was known to House members that HB70 probably wasn’t going to pass this Legislature – GOP senators were going to incorporate some its provisions into a comprehensive illegal immigration bill.
Duckworth and Hendrickson are in districts that before the 2010 election were considered safe seats for Democrats.
But Republicans defeated five Salt Lake County Democrat legislators last year, and Duckworth and Hendrickson saw their districts turn more conservative and Republican.
Considering that HB70 – and illegal immigrant enforcement -- may well be a touchstone bill in the next year’s elections, one can see why the two want to be on the conservative side of this issue – at least until they see how the Legislature later this year redraws their district boundaries and who their new constituents for 2012 may be.
If the GOP Senate immigration bill is more moderate than HB70 when it comes over for consideration by the House later this session, then even more House Democrats may feel they can support it without alienating their more-liberal constituent bases.