Holder eyes Utah guest-worker law for il­le­gals

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

A year af­ter su­ing Ari­zona over its tough im­mi­gra­tion law, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. told Congress on May 3 that his depart­ment is pre­pared to sue Utah for go­ing the other way and cre­at­ing its own guest­worker pro­gram — though he is giv­ing the state some time to change its law.

“That’s a law that doesn’t go into ef­fect un­til 2013,” Mr. Holder told the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “We will look at the law, and if it is not changed to our sat­is­fac­tion by 2013, we will take all the nec­es­sary steps.”

Utah Gov. Gary R. Her­bert ear­lier this year signed a pack­age of im­mi­gra­tion bills, in­clud­ing one to en­hance en­force­ment, sim­i­lar to but not as far-reach­ing as Ari­zona’s law, and an­other that tries to cre­ate a guest­worker pro­gram and pro­tect il­le­gal aliens from ar­rest.

The en­force­ment law is be­ing chal­lenged in court by civil rights groups, and Mr. Holder said if the guest-worker law doesn’t change he will chal­lenge it, too, for in­fring­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s right to con­trol im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

Mr. Her­bert’s of­fice didn’t re­spond to a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment, but Utah At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Shurtleff told The Wash­ing­ton Times that he has had sev­eral meet­ings with Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials to talk about ways to bridge the gap be­tween Utah’s law and Mr. Holder’s stance.

“I am pleased to see he did say we had two years,” Mr. Shurtleff said. “We’re work­ing with them. I feel like they’re open to on­go­ing dis­cus­sions.”

Utah’s move this year to pass a state-level guest-worker pro­gram shook the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, since it came from a con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing state where im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment is pop- ular and where politi­cians reg­u­larly la­bel fed­eral guest-worker plans as “amnesty.”

Un­der the plan, il­le­gal aliens liv­ing in Utah could ap­ply, pay a fine and be is­sued a work per­mit.

Pro-im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates said it marked a re­ver­sal from the trend of en­force­ment-only poli­cies pi­o­neered by Ari­zona.

The guest-worker pro­gram poses a test for Mr. Obama and his ad­min­is­tra­tion, which quickly moved to block Ari­zona’s en­force­ment ef­fort, but has yet to take ac­tion on Utah’s law, which more closely matches his own pro­pos­als on how to ad­dress im­mi­gra­tion.

On May 3, Mr. Obama held a meet­ing with top His­panic Democrats from Congress, at which he talked about try­ing to pur­sue a broad im­mi­gra­tion bill that would in­clude le­gal­iz­ing most il­le­gal aliens.

Mr. Holder said he has read the Utah law — un­like Ari­zona, where he first crit­i­cized the law, but had to ac­knowl­edge he hadn’t ac­tu­ally read it. He said he sees is­sues with the law, but hopes by 2013 that “there might be some way that we can work our way through those con­cerns with­out hav­ing to bring a law­suit.”

Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Smith, Texas Repub­li­can, told Mr. Holder that he doesn’t see how the Utah law can be squared with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stance on states and im­mi­gra­tion.

“It would seem that it’s un­con­sti­tu­tional, or at least it’s suspect on its face be­cause you have a law that pro­fesses to give legal sta­tus to peo­ple in the coun­try who are here il­le­gally,” he said. “I don’t know how you work that out, and it seems to be a clear vi­o­la­tion of cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion law.”

Mr. Shurtleff, Utah’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, said the law is writ­ten with the un­der­stand­ing that it will re­quire ei­ther a change in fed­eral law, or the is­suance of some sort of waiver, if it’s ever to work.

He said that could come ei­ther from the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which could use pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion to not tar­get em­ploy­ers who hire il­le­gal aliens us­ing Utah’s pro­gram, or from the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, which could de­fer ac­tion on de­port­ing il­le­gal aliens.

Mr. Shurtleff said nei­ther Jus­tice nor Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have the re­sources to go af­ter all il­le­gal aliens or all em­ploy­ers who are hir­ing them, and he said it would be nat­u­ral for the gov­ern­ment to an­nounce it was plac­ing a lower pri­or­ity on those peo­ple try­ing to com­ply with Utah’s laws.

He also took is­sue with lawmakers such as Mr. Smith who crit­i­cize the state’s laws while fail­ing to pass a so­lu­tion at the fed­eral level.

“For him to wag his fin­ger at us is just in­fu­ri­at­ing. Put up or shut up, con­gress­man,” Mr. Shurtleff said.

In the Ari­zona case, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gued that states do not have lee­way to en­act their own im­mi­gra­tion sys­tems.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s law­suit against Ari­zona is still wind­ing its way through the fed­eral courts.

A district judge tossed out key parts of the law last year, and an ap­peals court up­held that rul­ing last month. Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brewer is cur­rently de­bat­ing whether to ap­peal to the full 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals or take it di­rectly to the Supreme Court.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr., at a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on May 3, said he has read the Utah im­mi­gra­tion law — un­like Ari­zona’s, where he first crit­i­cized the law, only later ac­knowl­edg­ing he hadn’t ac­tu­ally read it.

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