When Dan Stein, the longtime President of the country’s leading conservative think-tank, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), got into a tiff on a radio talk program over Utah’s immigration law last year, he wasn’t having it out with a liberal, immigrant rights activist. Rather, the exchange was with Utah Attorney General and Republican, Mark L. Shurtleff.
Shurtleff tells The New York Times that “It’s only the loud, shrill voices we’ve been hearing. But I believe the majority of Republicans aren’t this shrill, anti-immigration, punish-’em-at-all-costs kind of mentality.”
A longtime Republican who supports GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and a Mormon who opposes abortion and President Obama’s health care reform, Shurtleff represents a break from the hardline stance of many prominent conservative politicians when it comes to immigration.
After the nation’s most stringent immigration law -- controversial Arizona bill SB-1070 -- passed last year, Shurtleff joined an unlikely coalition of law enforcement, community members, and faith leaders to draft the Utah Compact, a declaration of five principles that guide discussion over immigration in the state.
In sharp contrast with positions taken by fellow Republicans -- and asserting the Obama Administration's primary reason for challenging local anti-immigration bills -- the Utah Compact begins by stating "Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries -- not Utah and other countries."
Furthermore, the 2nd of the Compact's principles says that "Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code."
However, even enlightened hard-line positions on undocumented immigration, such as the Utah Compact, can run afoul of prevalent federal law.
In 2011, Utah officials passed House Bill 497, which was "modeled on Arizona's strict enforcement measure." In February of this year, a federal judge postponed deciding on the constitutionality of HB 497 until after other courts pass judgment on Arizona's SB 1070 law. Until then, the Utah law remains under an injunction.
Last year, Utah also passed HB116, a guest-worker bill that would allow undocumented immigrants the right to work via a state-run visa, should they pass a background check and pay several fines. A federal court has upheld the law.
In February, the Utah State Senate did away with a bill that attempted to repeal HB116. Champions of the bill include Republican Senators Stuart Reid, chairman of the Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee, and Senate President Michael Waddoups.
Despite the rhetoric among the GOP Presidential hopefuls who are defining the tone of the immigration debate, not all conservatives are falling in line.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Utah Attorney General Mark L. Shurtleff and Dan Stein appeared on a radio program last week. They appeared on the Diane Rehm Show last year.
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>