SALT LAKE CITY — A majority of Utahns say they support the Utah Legislature's efforts to resolve immigration issues despite the likelihood that at least two recent bills may be deemed unconstitutional, according to a new Deseret News-KSL poll.
Dan Jones & Associates found that 65 percent of Utahns supported the state's involvement in the immigration debate, which is also a controversial federal issue. The poll, conducted March 15-17, of 432 residents statewide, has a 4.75 percent margin of error.
The Legislature's legal staff has said that bills creating guest worker and immigrant sponsorship programs are unconstitutional and would require the federal government to issue a waiver for the measures to be implemented.
Utah County GOP delegate Brandon Beckham, who is heading an effort to repeal the guest-worker bill, said he, too, supports the Legislature's involvement and he is not surprised by the poll response.
But he is confident Congress would balk at the idea of granting a constitutional waiver. "By doing that, they would say that every state would have the right to have their own immigration policy."
He said inaction by Congress amounts to a "sin of omission" that has compelled states like Utah and Arizona to take action.
"We have two different issues here at hand. States do need to do what's best in their interest. They also need to send a message to the federal government to get it done. If they can't, step aside and we'll deal with it ourselves," Beckham said.
He said Utahns want to see enforcement issues against illegal immigration resolved ahead of measures that would address accommodation for undocumented immigrants already in the state.
One such accommodation is the guest worker provision of HB116, which a group of GOP delegates, including Beckham, has labeled as an irresponsible amnesty measure. Beckham said some Republican delegates "dumbfounded as to why we're passing the bill" are targeting GOP legislators that voted for it and Gov. Gary Herbert who signed it. "We're asking why we should support them if they're not even going to abide by the (GOP) platform."
Utah County Republicans are meeting Saturday and some delegates against the guest-worker bill may present a resolution calling for the repeal of HB116.
Tony Yapias, director of Projecto Latino de Utah, disagrees with the idea that enforcement is the top priority in Utah. Yapias made reference to a February Deseret News/KSL-TV poll that found 71 percent of residents like the idea of state-issued work permits for undocumented immigrants that would allow them to remain in the country if they have a job and undergo a criminal background check.
"I appreciate Utahns having a better understanding of this issue, dealing with this issue, compared to our congressional representatives that don't seem to get the message," Yapias said.
Yapias believes the state needs to continue working on immigration reform until the federal government steps up.
"Utah is showing the rest of the country they should be paying attention to it," he said. "At the end of the day, a solution will come out of Washington. But states like Utah, taking the issue into their own hands, are saying 'Look man, we're going to keep pushing this issue until you do something about it.' "
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: SteveFidel