SALT LAKE CITY — His get-tough bill to crack down on illegal immigrants in Utah will be ready this week, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, told an immigration forum Saturday — right after a long-time Hispanic activist urged a moratorium on new state immigration laws.

The goal of the forum, the first of several planned by the Utah Hispanic Latino Coalition, was to civilly find solutions to illegal immigration. The result: Well … it was civil, at least.

"State solutions muddy the waters, and they bring out the rhetoric and the nastiness," suggested Archie Archuleta, head of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, hoping for a moratorium.

But Sandstrom's bill is still on track.

"We're just getting the language finished up," he said, adding that the bill "will stand up in court."

Sandstrom said he has modified the bill after a federal judge partially blocked the similar but harsher SB1070 in Arizona late last month. Under his legislation, local law enforcement could only question a driver's citizenship status if stopped for a separate offense, and if the officer had "reasonable suspicion" the driver was in the country illegally. The officer could not question other passengers.

Sandstrom's bill, like Arizona's, would require the driver to present documents proving his legal status.

A driving privilege card would be "absolute proof that you're illegal," Sandstrom cautioned. "So you probably wouldn't want to be carrying one." Driving privilege cards are issued to undocumented workers in lieu of a driver's license.

"I'm trying to take every safeguard not to have racial profiling," Sandstrom said.

But forum organizer Jose Gutierrez wondered how a police officer would decide whether he had "reasonable suspicion" that someone is in the country illegally.

"I was a captain of the national police in my country," he said. "No matter how you define 'reasonable suspicion,' it's open to subjective interpretation."

Saturday's forum, which drew about 30 people, featured a nine-person panel that included four Latino and Hispanic activists, four state legislators, and Utah Minuteman Eli Cawley. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon made a brief appearance near the end of the event.

"We need to sit down together and find solutions together," Gutierrez said. "Let's stop thinking that only our own ideas work."

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, said she has met several times with Sandstrom as he fashioned his bill. "Most of the legislators have been willing to have a discussion," she said. "And the governor as well."

Panel members agreed that the federal government has failed to solve the problem of illegal immigration, and that America's borders need to be protected. But it's still a federal issue, said Salt Lake lawyer Mark Alvarez, not a state one.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, questioned whether Utah has the resources to detain and prosecute "an individual who cleans toilets at the Marriott," and whether this will take resources away from issues such as education.

Sandstrom and Cawley stressed the "rule of law," and both expressed concern that illegal immigrants have been exploited by human traffickers.

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At the end of the three-hour forum, Cawley said he saw "much more willingness to engage on the part of the Latino activists."

This is a new kind of Hispanic activism, said forum organizer Gutierrez. "Up until now, people have said 'this is discrimination,' or 'this is neo-Nazi,' " about efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. Now, he says, "we are asking Republicans and Democrats to work together to make solutions."

And, he adds, "We are saying, 'If you are going to make a law about me, talk to me' in order to have a better law."


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