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Immigrant driver’s license bill expires

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Predicting the fate of a bill which would have prohibited undocumented workers from getting driver's licenses may have been as simple as glancing at a House gallery packed with Hispanic families Monday night.

What started out as a "call to action" on Spanish language radio, became a concerted and noticeable lobbying effort by the Hispanic community that was capped off by an impromptu 10:30 p.m. rally in the Capital Rotunda just as the House adjourned. The rally was punctuated by boisterous cheers from the hundreds of Hispanics, all celebrating a House decision to send HB109 back to the House Rules Committee, where it will die this session unless two-thirds of the House votes to return it to the floor. That hadn't happened by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Ideally, said Tony Yapias, director of the state's Office of Hispanic Affairs, that spur-of-the-moment energy will sustain itself into this year's elections and next year's Legislative session, where he expected immigration to once again be an issue.

"Next year, we expect to see these bills, but we also expect to be more organized," he said. "We really came together (Monday) night, and they recognize we're here and we care."

Throughout this session, benefits given to undocumented workers have been a target of multiple bills backed by groups such as Utahns for Immigration Reform (UFIRE), although most of the bills never made it to their respective chambers for debates. A bill to remove a higher education tuition waiver for the children of undocumented workers failed in committee, as did a Senate bill that was identical to HB109.

In committee hearings, legislators from both parties were reluctant to punish the children of undocumented workers or force them to break even more laws. Instead, they seemed more supportive of helping them contribute to society while here and encourage the federal government to find a solution to the immigration problem.

What life the bills did have, however, may have been taken last Thursday when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a public statement, took no position on the bill and warned UFIRE representatives not to imply otherwise. That same day, UFIRE announced that an unidentified board member had been removed from the organization for quoting church doctrine in defense of the bills.

The lack of floor debate disappointed Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, who sponsored both HB109 and HB301, which would tighten motor voter laws to prevent non-citizens from voting and has passed the House.

"When 80 percent of the people support something, we should give it more time than we did," he said.

Next year, Thompson said that there will be some similar bills next year because the immigration problem is not going away. But while opponents have characterized his bills as almost racist, he said that he was actually attempting to help all of those waiting the legally immigrate to America and that next year he may also look for laws that protect the undocumented workers from abuse.

"It puts a big burden on us," he said. "That's why we have immigration laws and people are waiting to come here."

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com