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Monday
Mar072011

Utah Approves Guest Worker Program for Illegal Immigrants

Photodisc/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- Utah could become the first state in the nation with its own guest worker program, which would grant permits to undocumented immigrants and allow them to continue living and working in the state legally.

The measure passed the Republican-controlled state legislature late Friday as part of a bipartisan deal that also includes an enforcement law, requiring police to check the immigration status of suspects in felony or serious misdemeanor cases.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert praised lawmakers for crafting a so-called "Utah solution" to the state's illegal immigration problem but has not said whether he will sign the bills.

The federal government would need to grant a waiver to allow Utah to permit immigrant workers who would otherwise not be legally present in the United States.  Such a waiver would be unprecedented, and it's unclear whether a mechanism exists for the state to request one.

Still, passage of the legislation -- in a red state, in a part of the country most affected by illegal immigration -- is significant.

Most congressional Republicans and some Democrats currently oppose plans that would address the legal status of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living across the U.S.

Supporters of the Utah bills say they strike the right balance for the economy, recognizing the importance of immigrant workers for businesses and the need to crack down on illegal immigrants involved in crime.

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