Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah Governor Gary Herbert signs a package of Immigration bills Tuesday, March 15, 2011 in the Gold room of the State Capitol.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah state attorneys said in a court filing Tuesday that federal authorities might get involved in a lawsuit challenging the state's tough immigration enforcement law that civil rights groups argue is unconstitutional.
It's not clear, however, if the U.S. Justice Department plans to take action regarding the Utah law. Spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the department was reviewing the law but didn't elaborate.
The possibility of Justice Department involvement was enough to persuade U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups to delay an injunction hearing scheduled for Friday. The delay was requested by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. A new hearing was set for Nov. 18.
"In the interest of judicial economy, it makes little sense to have a hearing on plaintiffs' motion, and then to possibly reargue the same issues at a later date if DOJ decides to interject itself into this dispute," Shurtleff said in the filing.
The Utah law, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March, requires people to prove their citizenship if they're arrested for serious crimes ranging from certain drug offenses to murder. It also gives police discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offenses.
Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, said the organization supports the delay as long as the law doesn't go into effect.
"I interpret this that the Justice Department is taking a very close look at the Utah (law)," Jadwat said. "We hope they do as they have done in other states" by joining the lawsuit to stop the law.
The Justice Department has filed lawsuits to halt strict enforcement measures in Arizona and Alabama from taking effect. But the department has not taken action in some other states that give police more discretion, including Utah and Georgia.
Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order against House Bill 497 only hours after the law went into effect in May.