FEBRUARY 16, 2011
In a bizarre effort to resolve Utah’s immigration crisis, state lawmakers are considering measures to grant illegal aliens work permits as well as English and civics classes.The move comes as states and municipalities nationwide craft legislation to actually reduce their illegal immigrant populations, not accommodate them. Incredibly, some of the Utah measures have bipartisan support and a good chance of becoming law by the end of the legislative session.Illegal alien advocates are calling it a rare but meaningful middle ground in the scorching immigration debate, which has transformed into a hostile clash between local governments and the feds. In one corner is a federal government that fails miserably to fulfill its duty of securing the Mexican border and enforcing immigration laws. In the other are perpetually frustrated local governments taking matters into their own hands.Usually they introduce bills to rid their communities of illegal immigrants, which is why Utah stands out. Introduced by a Republican state congressman, one of the laws allows illegal immigrants already living in the state to register for a guest worker permit. Family members of permit holders could also stay under the proposal. A House committee approved the guest worker bill this week which means it will continue debate on the House floor.A second bill, known as the Pilot Accountability Permit Program, would grant the state’s estimated 110,000 illegal immigrants a sort of de facto amnesty. Drafted by a Democratic state senator and a Republican state congressman, the measure also gives illegal aliens work permits if they pass criminal background checks, pay taxes and enroll in English and civics classes.Passing it will increase public safety and address voter frustration in a “fair and rigorous way,” according to Jeremy Peterson, the Ogden Republican behind the law. He assures that no kind of amnesty will be granted, just that undocumented aliens will be allowed to work and the state can keep track of the “responsible members” of the illegal immigrant community.Utah has long protected illegal immigrants and provided them with endless public benefits, including discounted tuition at public colleges and universities. Last year it became the first state to offer a special class of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants who will be ineligible to obtain the cards when new federal security standards kick in.
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