Viewpoint: Repeal of HB116 is wrong

This past week, the Utah State Republican Convention voted 833-739 to ask the Utah legislature to repeal HB116, a guest-worker law that is only a few months old. The bill, which won’t take effect till 2013, gives undocumented immigrants the ability to continue working in the state if they submit to a criminal background check and pay a fine.

The repeal effort is primarily a Tea Party initiative that has divided the Utah GOP. It does not actually repeal HB116, but is meant by Tea Party supporters in Utah to send a message to GOP legislators who voted for the bill. It does not have any substantial support from the majority of Utahns, the Utah Republican Party or Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

The repeal goes against the view of the LDS Church, which issued a statement recently asking for “an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.”

It should be easy to see why so many are opposed to the repeal of the bill. HB116 is meant to offer a more compassionate solution to the issue of undocumented immigration in the state of Utah. While many people come to this state and this country illegally, a great many of them are not involved in any other crimes and obey the laws of the United States while living here. Furthermore, statistics show that undocumented immigrants pay taxes despite not being citizens. According to a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in taxes in 2010.

One should also consider children of undocumented immigrants in this situation. There have been many stories of people in the United States who were brought in illegally during their childhoods and only find out that they are here illegally when reaching adulthood. These people, many of whom are productive individuals with plans for college and careers, are then put in danger of being deported from the only country they have known. It is not the fault of these individuals if their parents brought them here illegally as young children. As such, HB116 gives these people an opportunity to continue living in and contributing to the United States while being put on the road to citizenship.

This decision also demonstrates the Utah GOP’s inability to think ahead further than the next election cycle. Recent surveys have shown that immigration actually doesn’t take that many jobs away from U.S. citizens, contrary to popular belief. With U.S. birth rates on the decline, our nation should begin experiencing worker shortages by the end of the decade. Therefore, our nation should be trying to keep the children of immigrants, illegal or not, here in the U.S. in order to keep our jobs filled and our economy competitive.

One should hope that the state legislators in the next session will resist the Tea Party’s strong arming and bullying. HB116 does not violate the Constitution, as supporters of the repeal might claim. And these same supporters have not elaborated on how exactly the Constitution is violated by the bill. Utah legislators should uphold basic civil rights for undocumented workers and recognize the contributions that guest workers are making and will be making to the state and the nation, regardless of status.