Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act

Utah’s “SB1070 Light”

Senator Stephen SandstromOn July 29th, in front of hundreds of jeering protesters, Senator Stephen Sandstrom, a Republican from Utah, proposed yet another in a long line of anti-immigrant bills that have been churning out of the Utah State Legislature over the past few years. This time it was called the “Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act,” and it was largely taken word-for-word from the notorious Arizona SB1070 law. Mark Alvarez, a pro-immigration rights attorney, points out some of the many similarities between the two bills in an article entitled Why Sandstrom’s Proposed Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act is ‘Arizona Light’:

“1. Police officers must check immigration status after a lawful stop, detention or arrest when reasonable suspicion exists as to the immigration status of the person stopped, detained or arrested.”

“2. Racial profiling [is] prohibited.”

“3. [Punishment for] Willful failure of [an] alien to carry documents indicating lawful status.”

“4. Creation of a right to sue agencies that limit enforcement of federal immigration laws.”

“5. Frustration and desperation [is expressed in both bills] over federal inaction on immigration.”

“Arizona Light is less wordy than Arizona’s SB1070. It has shed provisions that proscribe day labor and the users of such labor. Arizona Light does not contain a statement on legislative intent. Arizona’s SB1070 had the intent to ‘make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.’ In other words…Arizona Light has revised Arizona SB1070 in an attempt at constitutionality.”

Support for the bill among some of the main ruling institutions in Utah is, however, very low. The Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, the Catholic Church, the Utah Democratic Party, the Sutherland Institute, and many Republican lawmakers, among many others, have expressed their opposition, to one degree or another, to the bill.

The problem with these bills, from their point of view, is that although these bills do succeed in creating scapegoats and deflecting the very real fear of unemployment in order to make short term electoral gains from the enraged middle class voting base, they don’t assist the capitalists in their drive in maintaining a pool of super-exploited immigrant laborers, in order to maximize their rate of profit.

However, support among the broader population of Utah has been relatively high. A Deseret News/KSL-TV poll, conducted April 27-28, shows that 65 percent of polled registered voters were in favor of emulating Arizona’s SB1070. This should not be surprising in a state with relatively low union density of just 6.9%. With a labor movement that is not focused on organizing the unorganized or fighting for amnesty for immigrant workers, these layers of the population inevitably end up being used as a cheap pool of labor to drive down wages and divide the workers.

However, this support is very contradictory. Another poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which surveyed 625 registered Utah voters between October  25th and 27th, shows that 59 percent support legislation that would give those already here the opportunity to stay and apply for citizenship. It seems clear therefore, that the basis of support for the bill is not the immigrants themselves, but the supposed “effects” of immigration.

Unemployment in Utah is at a record 7.5%, the highest it’s been since December of 1983, when it was 7.8%. Even though this is well below the 9.8% national average, Utahns are used to an exceptionally low rate of unemployment, which is their “trade off” for some of the lowest wages (despite a relatively high cost of living) in the US.

The change has certainly caused a shock among all layers of Utah society and has certainly played a role in the growth of the Tea Party “movement” here. With the loss of credit after the credit crisis and saddled with mortgage debt, many Utah workers are attempting to live for the first time on their actual wages, assuming they have a job in the first place. Along with the collapse of the “middle class” into poverty or being forced to find low-paying jobs, a xenophobic backlash has been easy to organize.

The only solution is through the labor movement, but it must go on the offensive. The only road for the labor movement is to organize our immigrant worker brothers and sisters and to fight together against the actual cause of unemployment, the system that causes us poverty in the midst of extreme wealth: capitalism. Based on the tremendous productivity of labor and fantastic technology we have created, we could have a four-day 30 hour work week with no loss in pay.  Even if production and service levels remained at their present level, this would mean the creation of 25% more jobs. The wealth to make this a reality is there: but it is in the hands of the rich. What is needed is maximum unity of the workers, immigrant and native born, to achieve a decent life for all.

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