(818) 552-4503

Utah’s new immigration proposal: A better option or state interference with federal law?

By Atty. Daniel Hanlon

Border states from California to Texas have been the site of some of the most heated rhetoric over U.S. immigration policy in recent years. After Arizona’s passage of its notorious immigration law, SB-1070 dominated American headlines for weeks in 2010, politicians in many states around the country have followed suit by introducing similar legislation. Recent legislation approved by the Utah legislature and awaiting its governor’s signature is receiving praise as a rare example of “sane” immigration policy.

Key features of the Utah immigration reform bill include enhanced law enforcement, improvements to public safety and, most notably, a program that authorizes guest worker status without creating a path to citizenship. The praise for Utah lawmakers is probably best summed up in a quote from Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley: “Apparently, there are still some conservative lawmakers left who don’t abandon free-market principles in favor of reactionary populism when the topic turns to immigration.” Other supporters include Utah’s ski resort industry, which feared a similar national consumer backlash to what Arizona has experienced.

Surveys leading up to the bill’s recent easy passage by Utah’s House and Senate showed a strong majority of citizens — 71 percent — favoring a state-issued work permit for already employed undocumented immigrants. Permits would only be issued subject to a criminal background check and be effective for two years. The program would require Utah officials to work in conjunction with the Mexican government to facilitate migrant worker employment. New sanctions would be created for employers who hire immigrant labor outside of this system.

The proposed immigration law includes one aspect that is similar to, though less comprehensive than, Arizona’s attempt to enlist local law enforcement in immigration reform: police will be required to check the immigration status of those arrested on felony or serious misdemeanor charges. This local concern is also reflected in federal legislation recently proposed by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, which would bolster local and federal law enforcement cooperation under the 287(g) program.

While Utah’s approach seems to make an end run around issues of naturalization and citizenship for people who travel to our country and make valuable economic contributions, state laws cannot in any way affect an individual’s right to explore family-based immigration or employment-based immigration under existing federal law.

An experienced immigration lawyer can explain your prospects for obtaining a visa, seeking asylum or successfully fighting removal or deportation. A knowledgeable attorney who understands the full range of immigration issues and the ever-evolving laws and regulations that govern them can help you explore paths to a stable future as an American citizen.


Daniel P. Hanlon has been practicing Immigration and Nationality Law exclusively since his admission to the California State Bar in 1993. Mr. Hanlon is the founder of Hanlon Law Group, a P.C. He has argued many important immigration appeals before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and successfully challenged INS rulings in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Mr. Hanlon’s experience spans several years, and covers a broad range of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa petitions, including those for working professionals, multi-national managers, treaty-traders, investors, athletes and entertainers. Mr. Hanlon also has vast experience in all family-based Petitions and in labor certification applications under both Department of Labor-supervised recruitment and Reduction in Recruitment methods. Over the past several years, Mr. Hanlon has tried thousands of cases in Immigration Court involving Requests for Asylum in the United States, Cancellation of Removal, and Waivers of Grounds of Removability. Mr. Hanlon graduated “With Distinction” from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in April 1988, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. In May 1993, Mr. Hanlon graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, of which he sits on the Investors Committee. Mr. Hanlon has also appeared as a speaker before the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Immigration Section, on the 1996 immigration law amendments. Hanlon Law Group, P.C. is headquartered at 225 S. Lake Avenue, Suite 1100, Pasadena, CA 91101, tel: (626) 585-8005, fax: (626) 585-8595, website:  www.hanlonlawgroup.com, email: visas@hanlonlawgroup.com.

About the Author