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Measure to repeal tuition break for illegals is back

It is now part of broader bill to limit assistance

SHARE Measure to repeal tuition break for illegals is back

A measure to repeal in-state tuition for qualified undocumented immigrants that narrowly died in the House last week is back.

It's now part of a comprehensive bill to limit government benefits to undocumented immigrants, which one Latino community activist is calling the "mother of all anti-immigration bills."

Along with repealing the in-state tuition law, HB437 would prohibit undocumented immigrants from accessing any state or local public service that is not required to be offered under federal law.

The bill is the latest of several pending this session that deal with illegal immigration.

"They hid it so well," said Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah. "That's what (Rep. Glenn) Donnelson meant when he said last week, 'It's not over until the session ends."'

Yapias was referring to when Donnelson, R-North Ogden, said last week that he'd try to bring back his bill that would repeal a law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they attend a Utah high school for three years and graduate. HB224 died on a tie vote.

Donnelson is also the original sponsor of HB437, which had previously been introduced only in short title. The bill's text was released, however, with Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, listed as the sponsor. Donnelson, who is now a co-sponsor of HB437, declined to comment on it saying he hadn't seen the final version.

Herrod said the measure is meant to mitigate costs of providing services to undocumented immigrants and to bring "fundamental fairness" to those who immigrate legally.

"One of the saddest things I've seen in my life was at the U.S. embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, to see someone who was just denied a U.S. visa," Herrod said. "Unless you start with the premise that we accept everybody here all at once, everybody who is here illegally is taking someone else's place."

The measure requires any adult seeking a state or local public benefit to provide identification in the form of a Utah driver's license or state identification, military or military dependent card, U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner card or a Native American tribal document. It also requires signing an affidavit stating the applicant is a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or otherwise lawfully present.

It defines the benefits as "a grant, contract, loan, or license," along with "retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, or unemployment benefit or any other similar benefit."

The bill is similar to one enacted in Colorado last year. Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, pointed to a Denver Post report that Colorado's law had cost the state $2 million, but had saved the state nothing.

Herrod's bill doesn't not have a fiscal note.

McCreary said she'd like more information from the sponsor. But she said it could mean visiting speakers at libraries or college campuses would have to show ID and sign an affidavit.

"It's problematic in terms of the amount of the cost to the state," McCreary said. "It could be broadly interpreted and end up slowing down public and state agencies."

Undocumented immigrants are already not eligible for financial assistance, food stamps or child care, said Curt Stewart, spokesman for the Department of Workforce Services.

Currently applicants for those services must show verification they are eligible such as a naturalization document. Information is entered into a federal database for verification, he said. For unemployment insurance benefits, an applicant must also show a Utah driver's license or identification card.

Stewart declined to comment on HB437 until it could be reviewed by the agency.

For Yapias, there's also the question of waiting for a study on the costs of benefits of illegal immigration. A bill sponsored by Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, would require the state Attorney General's office to do a study of the costs of illegal immigration to the state, and Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, is eyeing a study of both costs and benefits.

"It just seems awfully sweeping, very broad, and hitting all the same things," said Archie Archuleta, co-chair of the Utah Hispanic Legislative Task Force. However, Archuleta credited many of Utah's lawmakers for "slowing these bills down."

"There are a number of people in the legislature who see this is kind of overkill," Archuleta said. "The hope is that they'll prevail."

Herrod said he'd be open to amendments if they're needed, calling his bill "a work in progress" aimed at stopping undocumented immigrants from accessing public benefits.

"If not the number one issue, (illegal immigration) was at least the number two issue of concern for my consitutents," Herrod said. "They are becoming frustrated."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com