SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Utah’s governor on Tuesday signed a package of immigration laws including one that would allow a police crackdown on illegal immigrants similar to Arizona’s attempt last year.
The laws, approved by Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature earlier this month, also would attempt to create a guest worker program.
Opponents of the bills rallied last week in downtown Salt Lake City in an effort to prevent their passage. Chanting and carrying signs that read “Don’t Let Utah Become Another Arizona” and “Keep Families Together” the protesters urged lawmakers and the governor to stop the legislation.
“Utah did the right thing. We did the hard thing,” Governor Gary Herbert said in signing the laws, which he called “the Utah solution.”
The United States is struggling with 12 million illegal immigrants, many of them from Latin America, and growing anger among voters about the jobs they take.
U.S. immigration enforcement has shifted over the years, with the Obama administration choosing to crack down on employers rather than illegal workers themselves.
Herbert called on the federal government to follow Utah’s model and enact reform of immigration laws.
But immigration experts said the new Utah laws, except for enforcement, are more show than substance.
“The guest worker stuff is entirely meaningless. It is like a college creating a nuclear free zone. It’s meaningless. A state cannot create a guest worker program,” said Steven Camarota, research director of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies think-tank in Washington.
Analysts also are skeptical the package will influence policy in Washington, where Republicans who favor enforcement-only measures have control of the House of Representatives and a stronger hand in the Senate.
Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said such laws put immigration back in focus.
“But the way forces are balanced in Washington, I don’t think it’s going to have any real effect on pushing through comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.
Legal challenges are expected to a law requiring police to check the immigration status of people stopped for felonies.
That law is similar to one in Arizona that has been the target of a lawsuit by the administration of President Barack Obama.
Herbert hosted an immigration summit last year to lay the foundation for the forthcoming legislative session. The summit brought together religious, business, law enforcement and government leaders to tackle the issue.
“There are those who will say these bills may not be perfect but they are a step in the right direction and they are better than what we had,” he said.
Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix