Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday he intends to sign a bill that some say could exclude undocumented children and teenagers from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities.
HB 209 would require someone interested in playing sports or participating in an extracurricular activity at a private or public school to provide certain identification documentation. This documentation includes: birth certificate, state driver’s license or passport, or any federally recognized identification such as one issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
Cox said he intended to sign the bill Wednesday, but was cautioned about concerns about what it could mean for young undocumented Utahns. He said he paused, contacted the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, and received assurances that the bill was intended to give youth more access to sports, not less.
“I plan to sign the bill,” Cox said Thursday during his monthly news conference. “But what I did was I got a promise from the sponsor of the bill that we’re going to look at this in the next month and we’re going to talk to all the high schools, all the middle schools in the state. And if there are students who would be affected by this, we will call a special session to come and amend the bill.
“We’re not trying to exclude anyone from the game.”
Teuscher told The Salt Lake Tribune that someone’s birth certificate can be from any state or country and can be “any official document” that contains someone’s date of birth, place of birth, gender and ancestry. Because of that, Teuscher doesn’t believe the law will have any impact on undocumented youth.
“The only scenario where someone wouldn’t be able to play would be someone who’s undocumented coming in to enroll in high school — because if they’ve been here a few years, then they’d have other documentation that would qualify here Teuscher said. “But say they enroll in high school and want to play sports, they can’t get someone else who has a copy of the document, they can’t contact their home country to get a document, whatever it is . And in fact, my understanding is that it just doesn’t exist.”
Others believe it will be a bigger problem than the lawmaker realizes. Briana Puga, community organizer for immigrant rights at Comunidades Unidas, told The Tribune that while there are alternatives to providing a birth certificate, “the requirement to show a federal or state ID for people who can’t to provide a birth certificate will discriminate against undocumented students as undocumented students cannot provide such documents.”
Alejandro Callejas participated in sports as a high school student in Utah, including football, soccer and swimming. He was also on the debate team. He was able to participate in these activities unencumbered, without interference from the state government or the Utah High School Activities Association.
Callejas said he now fears HB 209 could change that for his family members and friends.
“A lot of the friends that I know and the little brothers and sisters of some of the friends that I have are going to be affected by this,” said Callegas, who was born in El Salvador but has lived in Utah for the past 15 years. “They won’t be able to participate, which would be a shame because a lot of them are very talented young people.”
Puga hoped Cox would find time to talk to some people in the undocumented community and hear their concerns. She also wanted Cox to veto the bill.
“There’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress because students won’t be able to try out for extracurricular activities, for the basketball team, for the football team,” Puga told The Tribune. “They would not have access to potential scholarships or post-secondary opportunities based on their athletic ability or their ability in other extracurricular activities.
“This would further marginalize the undocumented community, as well as young people who are already stigmatized by their status.”
Puga indicated that a “call to action” would be organized if Cox did not grant the meeting Comunidades Unidas wanted.
Utah’s undocumented population is estimated at 89,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute. About 7,000 are between the ages of 3 and 17.
Most of HB 209 details what is required of a student to participate in sports at a public or private school. Its original intent was to make it easier for homeschooled kids to take advantage of sports and extracurricular activities, Teuscher said.
The language requirements for a birth certificate or other documentation came from HB 463, a failed bill sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan. Last year, Birkeland supported HB 11, legislation aimed at banning transgender girls from competing in sports. Governor Spencer Cox vetoed that bill, the Legislature overturned it, and a judge later blocked it.
Teuscher said his bill and Birkeland’s were combined because they deal with the same sections of Utah law. He added that the purpose of HB 463 is to clean up the loopholes left by HB 11, which created a commission to determine whether a transgender girl can compete in a boy’s sport. Part of the text of that bill includes a clause that conditions “a student athlete’s participation in gender-specified sports in the public education system on the student’s birth certificate.”
But after HB 11 initially passed, it was discovered that not all schools were collecting birth certificates from students, Teuscher said. So if there’s a school that doesn’t require a birth certificate, theoretically there would be no way for the committee process to begin if a transgender girl wanted to compete in a boys’ sport at that school, Teuscher said. So HB 463 was a way to require all schools to collect birth certificates as a way to make sure there was a way to challenge the commissioning process, he said.
Birkeland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because of HB 463’s slow movement through the legislative process, its inclusion in HB 209 helped smooth the legislative process, Teuscher said.
“It happens every now and then where you have an account, someone else has an account, they’re dealing with the same section of code,” Teuscher said. “They may not be doing exactly the same thing. But just for legislative efficiency, things are moving, and to keep things moving and not bog down the process, we’re going to come together and say, “Hey, let’s just merge our bills, change your part of the bill to my part. And that’s what we did in this case.”