updated 3/3/2005 8:19:48 PM ET 2005-03-04T01:19:48

Immigrant rights activists are angry about a bill requiring undocumented workers to hand over their driver licenses for driving “privilege” cards. One even compared the legislation to the marking of Jews during the Holocaust.

The card, according to the bill passed Wednesday by the Legislature, could not be used as identification to board a plane, open a bank account or obtain a driver’s license in another state. It would have to be renewed annually and would be a different color than Utah’s regular blue driver’s license and be printed with the words “FOR DRIVING PRIVILEGES ONLY — NOT VALID FOR IDENTIFICATION.”

Hundreds of activists and immigrants quietly demonstrated at the Capitol while legislators debated and passed the proposal. Gov. Jon Huntsman is expected to sign the bill, which was modeled after legislation passed in Tennessee last year.

Leo Bravo of the Hispanic Center of Cache Valley in northern Utah, argues that the measure singles out undocumented workers because they are foreigners.

But Republican Sen. Curtis Bramble, the bill’s sponsor, told House Republicans on Tuesday the measure closes a “portal” for illegal immigrants to acquire documents and the trappings of citizenship. It “solves all those problems” of homeland security, he said.

Bravo said he planned to ask the hundreds of immigrant workers who seek his counsel to reconsider their support for Huntsman if he signs the bill.

“I thought he would be good for the community,” said Bravo, who supported Huntsman for office. “You remember the time of the Jews and Nazis? They were marked. I hope he doesn’t betray me.”

58,000 licenses in the balance
If Huntsman signs it, the bill would take effect immediately and the state would revoke the licenses of at least 58,000 immigrants on their birthdays and cease issuing new licenses to undocumented foreigners.

Huntsman sees the measure as a “good compromise” compared to states such as California that do not grant driving privileges to undocumented workers, said Tammy Kikuchi, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Activists have said that the legislation could create safety problems for law enforcement. Bravo said issuing driver’s licenses can be a way of teaching responsibility.

“When I talked with law enforcement a while back, they said their No. 1 daily problem with immigrants was hit-and-run accidents,” he said. “Well, now they’ll be afraid to stop and face law enforcement because we’ve marked them for discrimination.”

Pro and con
Conservative immigration reform groups say traditional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants amounts to giving them parity under the law. Some believe is not good policy because it could encourage illegal immigrants to break more laws.

“These people have no right to be here, so giving them privileges doesn’t make much sense,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Tony Yapias, former director of Utah’s Office of Hispanic Affairs, said the restricted cards would make life difficult for undocumented workers who fill a need by taking jobs at low wages.

Yapias and other immigrant rights activists worry about practical matters, such as cashing paychecks without a form of identification.

But Sham Singh, a restaurateur in Logan, said he believed the measure would do little to change the way undocumented workers survive in Utah.

“Look, many of these workers don’t receive paychecks,” Singh said. “They are paid in cash, and that is how they will continue to be paid.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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