Utah pioneered the new path. Three-part legislation passed in spring 2011 combined an Arizona-like policing measure with a state-run guest worker program to bring in legal workers from Mexico, plus an initiative to grant work permits to unauthorized immigrants already living and working in Utah. This year, lawmakers in five other states as different as Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Vermont and California floated similar worker authorization bills. Legislators in many states express interest in guest worker programs. It's not just immigrant rights advocates who are driving the measures -- many are backed by surprising coalitions.
In some instances, business is engaged. Even in the downturn, farmers, nonfarm seasonal employers and other industries that rely on physical labor need immigrants to do jobs for which there are few willing and able Americans. In some states, the sponsors are pragmatic conservatives. Republican state Sen. Curt Bramble of Utah is as eager as Arizona's enforcement-minded sheriffs to get control of illegal immigration.
But Bramble believes it will take a combination of enforcement and realism about the unauthorized population. "Most aren't going home," he says, "no matter what we do. And the states are stuck with the costs. We have to educate, medicate and incarcerate them. But we can't let them work. It's the biggest unfunded mandate in history."