Hatch, Bennett: No Federal Immigration Changes In Sight

Hatch, Bennett: No Federal Immigration Changes in Sight

Last Edited: Tuesday, 19 Feb 2008, 1:12 PM MST
Created: Tuesday, 19 Feb 2008, 1:12 PM MST
Local News on MyFOXUtah.com

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's U.S. senators told the Legislature on Tuesday that changes to federal immigration laws won't occur until after the next president takes office — and possibly longer.

The comments come as the Republican-controlled Legislature considers a pack of bills in response to what some see as Congress' failure to act on illegal immigration.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett did not address any of the state bills. Instead, in their annual address to the Legislature, they told lawmakers that Congress wouldn't make any changes soon.

“I think the prediction it may be as long as five years is probably true,” Bennett said.

Some state lawmakers have been reluctant to impose more restrictions on illegal immigrants because of possible changes in federal laws.

Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, contends Hatch and Bennett's comments reinforce the need for states to act.

“We were both discouraged and confirmed with our understanding with where Congress is on illegal immigration. Senators Bennett and Hatch both indicated today that Congress is not going to deal with this issue in the short term,” he said. “This state is trying to be accurate in its balance between the compassion and the rule of law.”

Lawmakers are considering eliminating in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, repealing a driving privilege card that allows them to drive and buy insurance and making it illegal to knowingly transport illegal immigrants.

The Senate planned to debate a sweeping immigration bill Tuesday, modeled after an Oklahoma law, but pushed it to Thursday.

State Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said lawmakers didn't have enough time to debate the bill Tuesday and that he wanted to make some changes to it before it's heard.

Numerous churches have complained that his bill is too harsh. He said Tuesday he will address that issue by allowing religious groups to continue to offer medical and other social services to illegal immigrants. His bill would ban illegal immigrants from receiving those services from government.

“What we hope to do is stem the tide of the impact that our undocumented folks are having … in the areas of health care and criminal justice and so on,” Hickman said. “Our intent is not to interfere with the ecclesiastical services.”

Bennett and Hatch illustrate the difficulty in reaching a consensus in Congress. Bennett supported a bill sponsored by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, an Arizona senator, that would have granted legal status to millions of people living illegally in the U.S.

Hatch opposed it.

“That bill was a disaster,” Hatch said Tuesday.

Bennett said he's received numerous complaints from farmers and other rural employers that efforts to secure the Mexican border have made it difficult to find workers.

“I have people coming to me and saying the crops are rotting in the fields,” he said.