SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker said Saturday that Utah needs to quickly pass its own version of an Arizona law intended to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants, now that it's been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's imperative now that Utah act," said Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, warning that more undocumented workers will come to the state as a result of the court's decision to uphold the 2007 Arizona law penalizing employers who hire them.
"Utah is one of their states of choice," Sandstrom said.
He said he has already requested a bill be drafted that would mirror the Arizona law, which requires all businesses to use a federal verification system to check the immigration status of new hires.
Employers who don't comply, Sandstrom said, would have their business, professional and other state-issued licenses suspended for two weeks on a first violation, and repeat offenders would have their licenses permanently revoked. Utah already has a requirement on the books that companies with 15 or more employees must use the federal system known as E-Verify. But there are no penalties for non-compliance.
And a new state verification system with sanctions that's part of the controversial bill establishing a guest-worker program in Utah won't take effect until July 2013 or within 120 days of a waiver being issued by the federal government.
Sandstrom said the state can't even wait until the 2012 Legislature starts in January. He is calling for his proposal to be put on the agenda of a special session of the Legislature that's expected to be called in September to deal with redistricting issues.
But that's up to Gov. Gary Herbert because it's the governor who decides when to call lawmakers into special session and what they'll consider.
Herbert spokeswoman Ally Isom said Sandstrom has not contacted the governor or shared his proposal. "It would be premature to comment," she said.
Herbert successfully pushed last session for what he called a comprehensive approach to taking on the issue of illegal immigration in light of the federal government's inaction.
In addition to the guest-worker bill, lawmakers also approved an enforcement measure sponsored by Sandstrom that was modeled after another Arizona law that's still tied up in the courts.
The Salt Lake Chamber, however, doesn't see the need for Sandstrom's new bill.
"This is essentially the government asking — or attempting to force — business to patrol immigration," chamber spokesman Marty Carpenter said. "Just because something has been deemed legal does not make it good policy."
Carpenter said illegal immigration is the federal government's responsibility "We want the economy to thrive. To do that, business needs to be allowed to focus on its core mission," he said.
Sandstrom, though, dismissed any suggestion that using the federal E-Verify system puts a burden on business.
"I think you're seeing their true colors," the lawmaker said. "There's a segment in our business community that wants to hire cheap, illegal labor and is putting profit over principle."