- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Five years after Utah passed a guest worker law lauded as a compassionate approach to address immigrants living in the country illegally, the state is seeking to repeal the never-implemented program.

The 2011 law would have allowed immigrants in the U.S without legal permission to remain in Utah if they had a job, no criminal record and paid a fine and registered with the state.

The program required approval from the federal government, which state lawmakers said Friday now seems unlikely.

“We knew going in that it was a bit of a longshot to get the federal waiver,” Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said. “We were hoping that the federal government would look at it and say ‘That is a rational approach to the challenges that are faced.’ That hasn’t happened.”

Bramble said Friday that he’s working on a bill that seeks to repeal the law this year.

The law was passed in 2011 but lawmakers pushed back its start date to 2017, hoping that Congress in the meantime would tackle immigration at the national level.

That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, nor does some kind of wavier from President Barack Obama or Congress to approve Utah’s program, Bramble said.

If the measure isn’t repealed, the law would require state agencies to soon spend millions to start complying with the law.

Utah passed the law along with a package of other immigration proposals that included tougher law enforcement measures modeled after a controversial Arizona law. Utah’s move to pair tougher enforcement provisions with a guest worker program was touted by officials as a compassionate and logical model that could be adapted elsewhere.

The measures were based on a set of guidelines known as the Utah Compact, which sought to avoid the same controversy that erupted over Arizona’s 2010 hardline law. The compact stated in part that immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission deserve respect and are essential to the economy.

When lawmakers were considering the guest worker law, lawyers for the Legislature warned that immigration is a federal issue and that Utah’s law would likely be found unconstitutional in court.

Utah lawmakers wanted to avoid that legal battle and instead sought some sort of federal approval.

Bramble and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Friday that legislators don’t want to start the program anyway to force the issue in court.

Though Utah has waded into legal battles with the federal government over public lands and other issues, Niederhauser said a similar battle over immigration has not been a priority.

Bramble, who has been involved in much of Utah’s immigration-related legislation in recent years, did not know how far state officials went to seek approval for the guest worker plan.

He said Friday that he’d discussed the program with members of Obama’s administration but they showed no interest in approving it. He said no member of Utah’s congressional delegation tried to pass legislation in Congress that would approve Utah’s law.

Bramble said the Utah attorney general’s office had planned to take the lead on seeking a waiver in 2011. Missy Larsen, a spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, did not have immediate details Friday on what efforts the office had put in to seek a waiver before or after Reyes took office in 2013.


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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