In the grasping-at-straws department this week, the open-borders lobby is praising Utah Republicans for a bold stroke on behalf of Utah employers. The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature has just passed a bill that will give work permits to illegal aliens – after they pass a criminal background check, pay a fine, and sign up for English classes, of course.

To take effect, the Utah law would need a waiver from the federal government because it openly contradicts a federal law against employment by illegal workers – which was part of the 1986 amnesty program.

In case Republicans elsewhere didn’t notice this embarrassing hiccup from Utah, the neoconservative National Review Online reprinted a Washington Post opinion piece praising the new Utah law. Someone at NRO thinks it is a promising new pathway for the Republican Party away from the enforcement-first strategy favored by, well, 80% of Republicans.

It is indeed a new pathway for the Republican Party, a pathway to division and mass defections in 2012.

Concerned about the impact of illegal aliens on the United States? Don’t miss Tom Tancredo’s book, “In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security” — now just $9.95!

We might grudgingly admire the persistence of the Utah open-borders gang if it were not for the potentially dire consequences for Republicans. It has been less than a year since an incumbent U.S. senator, Bob Bennett, was dumped by his party rank and file in favor of pro-enforcement challenger Mike Lee. Last May Sen. Bennett got only 27 percent of the delegate votes at a state nominating convention, and his open-borders policies were widely acknowledged to be a major factor in his defeat.

So, the Utah Legislature’s indulgence of the state’s cheap-labor lobby is hardly the harbinger of revolutionary change among Republican lawmakers. It is more an embarrassing sideshow than a model for immigration reform.

In the first place, the state has to seek a federal waiver from current federal law to grant work visas to illegal aliens. The likelihood of this happening is about as remote as the chances of Janet Napolitano being the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of retired Border Patrol officers.

For amusement, let’s contemplate the probable discussion in the White House upon receiving the Utah request for a waiver from federal immigration laws. Having only months ago filed a lawsuit to block Arizona’s S.B. 1070 on the grounds that only the federal government can legislate on immigration matters, how is the Obama Department of Justice going to explain a decision to allow Utah to pre-empt and replace federal immigration law? If Utah can get a waiver for a law that contradicts federal law, why should Arizona – or any other state – be denied the right to participate in actually enforcing current federal immigration law?

Logically, the open-borders lobby ought to be worried about the consequences of granting the Utah waiver. The Obama lawsuit against Arizona has yet to be heard in federal appeals court. By granting the Utah waiver, it would seriously undermine its claim to exclusivity in immigration matters.

Looking beyond the Arizona lawsuit, the open-borders lobby ought to have a larger concern. Should the Obama administration grant the Utah waiver from federal immigration law, it would likely open the floodgates of state legislation on immigration far beyond the 2010 Arizona law.

Some immigration-enforcement advocates are saying, let’s let Utah have its little experiment and see what happens. The lesson might be instructive for the nation.

  • First, Utah would become a magnet for illegal-alien workers from neighboring states. Citizens of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming and even California might cheer this development.

  • Let’s also watch to see how many of Utah’s estimated 75,000 illegal aliens come “out of the shadows” to pay a fine, enroll in English classes, submit to a background check and apply for the work visa.
  • Lets’ see if the criminal background checks include screening for multiple DUIs and identity theft – or will it cover only felonies?
  • What about the several thousand – there are over 500,000 nationally – with outstanding deportation orders?
  • Will those previously deported and now subject to felony re-entry prosecution be exempted from that law, too?
  • And let’s see if they volunteer to pay back taxes, a provision usually included in federal amnesty proposals.

Unfortunately, we will never enjoy the spectacle of this experiment falling flat on its face because it will die a merciful death in the Obama White House. If Tom Tancredo endorsed it as a useful laboratory for testing various open borders fantasies, that would guarantee its demise. Oh, yes. I confess, I’m tempted.

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