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‘Robles-Mero’: Another Bad ‘Utah Solution’
email this pageprint this pageemail usMark Alvarez - PVNN
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December 21, 2010

Editor’s note: This blog consistently has noted the deep problems in any proposed legislation that the state’s elected officials might consider as a “Utah solution” to the problems associated with immigration reform. And, as recent local press reports have suggested, those concerns are, indeed, substantive. Gov. Herbert has stated his willingness to sign a “Utah solution” when it comes to immigration. As a result, there are two proposals out there: one from Stephen Sandstrom and the more recent offering by State Senator Luz Robles and Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute.

Robles-Mero offers a Utah work permit to qualifying undocumented residents. The work permit looks alluring to an undocumented worker. Some even have called to ask about it. With political friends like Robles and Mero… well, fill in the rest.
In advance of the forthcoming legislative session, every reasonably intelligent Utahn should let the Governor know that there is no legitimate Utah solution with regard to immigration that will pass muster federal Constitutional tests. The Robles-Mero option is barely distinguishable from the Sandstrom option as the following explanation from attorney Mark Alvarez, a regular blog contributor who has written extensively on this issue, demonstrates.

The Utah Pilot Accountability Permit Program (“Robles-Mero”) put forth last month by State Senator Luz Robles (D) and Sutherland Institute Director Paul Mero is dangerous with respect to law, politics and people.

Robles-Mero offers a Utah work permit to qualifying undocumented residents. The work permit looks alluring to an undocumented worker. Some even have called to ask about it. With political friends like Robles and Mero… well, fill in the rest.

Robles and Mero repeatedly have emphasized the severity of the enforcement mechanisms in their proposal. This is naked politics: to get votes from Republicans for the permit, Robles-Mero had to punish strictly. Benefits and enforcement go together.

The legal analysis matters here. Severability is an essential feature of Robles-Mero. This means that if a part of the proposal is found unconstitutional, the rest of the bill is safely intact.

Here’s the problem: The work permit is the least defensible part of Robles-Mero. It violates federal law (8 USC § 1324a). It is unconstitutional. Remove – or, sever – the permit from Robles-Mero and what remains is harsh enforcement.

And, to use her words, Robles has said, “Our enforcement mechanism is stronger than an Arizona-style program.”

No idle assertions here. This is what severability would leave.

The enforcement includes a card-carrying requirement for permit holders, employment restrictions, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) notification orders, database sharing with the federal government and forced photographing and fingerprinting of individuals who are not carrying their permit. Undocumented immigrants who did not sign up would get treated severely and unconditionally.

Robles and Mero have tried to secure federal approval for their scheme. Anyone with a reasonable sense of federal law and protocol will see the likelihood of gaining such approval as extremely remote. Two weeks ago, Robles and Mero even acknowledged this when they challenged the federal government to sue on the merits of Robles-Mero.

Without federal approval, Utah’s Department of Public Safety would become, in effect, a gigantic fraudulent document mill. The identities of work permit holders would be lodged in a database readily accesible for prosecution. In this scenario, Utah becomes a nightmare for the undocumented, precisely the opposite of the benignly stated intentions of Robles-Mero.

However, what should disturb any reasonable Utahn is how the bill’s deep imperfections do not seem to concern those individuals who publicly profess their positions as well-intentioned advocates acting on behalf of the state’s immigrants. Proponents of Robles-Mero argue that it is the least bad proposal. They persistently refer to Governor Herbert’s statement that he will sign an immigration bill. Leaving the debate over whether Robles-Mero is the least bad proposal, surrender based on an ill-informed comment by Herbert does not a worthy foundation for anyone advocating a humane approach on immigration.

Let’s be even more plain. A “Utah solution” violates the Constitution and the first principle of the Utah Compact.

Immigration authority is a federal prerogative. States are allowed some scope of action, but no individual state can address in rational fashion the broad, complex immigration challenges and opportunities facing the country. The argument that states must act now for the purpose of enforcement and benefit proposals is incomplete at best. At the core, such an argument is an attack upon the U.S. Constitution regardless.

Utah should avoid costly distractions and certain lawsuits from the unrealistic pursuit of a “Utah solution” on immigration. There are many important state challenges for Utah to handle especially in a period where significant changes are occurring both demographically and economically. Let’s concentrate on those aspects and urge our elected officials to do likewise.

Mark Alvarez is a Salt Lake City attorney and a member of the city Library Board. He co-hosts a Spanish-language radio show. He currently resides in Salt Lake City. Contact him at alvarez_mark2004(at)

Click HERE to read more articles by Mark Alvarez on

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