SALT LAKE CITY -- More than 150 people packed a committee room Friday to hear a nearly three-hour-long debate on Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's immigration bill.
"Utah is soft on those who are here illegally," said Sandstrom, R-Orem, sponsor of House Bill 70.
The bill would require law enforcement officials, if they suspect individuals are here illegally, to check the legal status of those arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill 9-3, and it now goes before the House for further consideration.
"There is a sense of entitlement from those who are here illegally," Sandstrom said "Every single person who is working has committed multiple felonies."
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said he supports the bill because 80 percent of his constituency wants something done about illegal immigration.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, spoke against the bill because he said lawmakers have done a number of things over the past several years to go after the criminal element in the undocumented community.
"This is a catch-and-release bill," he said.
Litvack said he appreciated the work Sandstrom did over the past 10 months, but "making a bad bill better doesn't make it the right thing to do."
The meeting started and ended with Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, committee chairman, asking the public to respect one another.
At the opening, Oda said he would have anyone who was disruptive, belligerent or causing a commotion to either be removed from the room or arrested.
"I'm not going to tolerate any type of outbursts, cheering or clapping," he said.
Sandstrom said his bill is not like an Arizona law because anything that was deemed unconstitutional by the courts in that legislation is not in his bill.
"This will stand up in court," he said.
Sandstrom's bill underwent a recent change after local law enforcement officials said they were concerned with the fiscal note that predicted it would cost local governments $5.3 million to $11 million to enforce provisions of the bill.
Sandstrom changed the word "shall" to "may" in one part of the bill. Instead of requiring law enforcement officers to detain someone charged with a class B or class C misdemeanor who they suspect may be here illegally, the bill allows officers to choose whether detainment is necessary.
Bountiful resident Ron Mortensen, with the Coalition on Illegal Immigration, spoke in favor of the bill.
He said the bill, if passed, will not bring boycotts to the state because 20 other states are considering similar bills.
Also 70 percent of those who are in Utah illegally are using fraudulent identities, Mortensen said.
Jim Wall, former publisher of the Deseret News, spoke against the bill on behalf of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.
If the bill is passed, Utah can expect to see people lose their jobs, he said, and the state will experience a decrease in local and state tax dollars paid by out-of-state visitors because people will boycott Utah over the bill.
Paul Mero, with the Sutherland Institute, said Bill 70 will create a culture of fear. "This bill remains a huge civil rights nightmare."
He also said it zeroes in on one group of people that society has "imagined" is ruining it.
Dan Deuel, an Ogden resident who is a legislative liaison for the Weber County 9/12 group, said immigration is a top priority for legislators this session and that "any consequences of any inaction are far greater than any action."