Utah Legislative Leaders & Special Interests Force Through Amnesty/Guestworker Program

By Ronald W. Mortensen on March 8, 2011

Illegal immigration has been a central focus of the current Utah legislative session.

Immediately after the Arizona enforcement bill was signed into law, state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom indicated that he would introduce enforcement legislation in the 2011 legislature and the proposal drew overwhelming public support.

The supporters of illegal immigration led by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and the Utah agriculture industry expressed horror at the prospect of Utah following Arizona's lead and a short time later brought out the Utah Compact, which was designed to defuse enforcement efforts and to protect illegal aliens and their employers. The Compact was signed by community and business leaders in a highly publicized ceremony.

In keeping with its usual practice of indirectly influencing public opinion when it comes to controversial political issues in Utah, the LDS Church didn't sign the Compact but immediately issued a press release expressing its strong support for it. The Church's press release moved it away from its strong, unequivocal support of the rule of law and towards a social justice position as it called for "just and enforceable laws" and "accountability" to the law rather than obedience to the law.

The LDS Church's support of the Compact was largely seen as being driven by its increasing focus on illegal aliens as a source of new converts and its various interests in Latin America ranging from ensuring the issuance of visas for its missionaries to issues related land ownership and taxation of its properties.

The Salt Lake Chamber played a key role in developing the Compact and the guestworker bill in order to protect its members' ability to hire low cost, illegal-alien labor. Agricultural interests quickly signed on for the same reason.

Supporters of the Compact opposed bills designed to control and reduce illegal immigration and succeeded in passing a Utah guestworker program which would grant illegal aliens in Utah a state-issued work permit beginning in 2013.

During the debates and discussions on the amnesty bill, representatives of the Chamber and agricultural interests openly acknowledged that their members are employing illegal labor. LDS church officials maintained a permanent presence in the restricted areas of the legislature where they had direct access to legislators out of sight of the public.

The leadership of both houses of the Utah legislature worked hand-in-hand with the pro-illegal immigration coalition and forced through a guestworker program with virtually no debate and without even allowing House members to read the bill in a late-night session last Friday, March 4.

Tactics employed by the Chamber, agriculture, and the LDS Church, coupled with the power play executed by the leaders of the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah state Senate, have been described as "Washington and Chicago politics come to Utah."

Many observers noted that the passage of the Utah amnesty/guestworker bill was virtually identical to the way national health insurance was rammed through Congress. Utah legislative leaders supported by powerful interest groups used pure political muscle to ensure passage of an unpopular bill that those voting hadn't read.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who shows great respect for both the Salt Lake Chamber and the LDS Church, is expected to sign the amnesty/guestworker bill in spite of the fact that legislative analysts have declared it to be unconstitutional.