Top Department of Justice attorneys meet with Utah leaders over controversial immigration law

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 25 2011 4:55 p.m. MDT

Tony West, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, described Tuesday's meetings with Utah leaders over a controversial immigration enforcement law passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year as "productive."

Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — A top Department of Justice attorney described Tuesday's meetings with Utah leaders over a controversial immigration enforcement law passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year as "productive."

However, assistant attorney general Tony West, who heads the DOJ's Civil Division, gave no indication whether the federal government will intervene in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB497.

West said the meetings, held at the state Capitol, were among "a series of productive meetings we have had with the state of Utah.

"We continue to have some good conversations," he said.

West was joined by Thomas E. Perez, head of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, in a meeting with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and assistant attorneys general. DOJ officials also met with legislative leaders, including Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, sponsor of HB497; Senate President Michael Waddoups and Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake.

The ACLU of Utah and the National Immigration Law Center have filed a lawsuit against the state over the law, challenging its constitutionality. The ACLU wants the federal government to challenge the law as well.

The law requires police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors as well those booked into jail on class B and class C misdemeanors. The law also says officers may attempt to verify the status of someone detained for class B and class C misdemeanors.

The plaintiffs have maintained that the law will turn Utah into a "show-me-your-papers" state.

Shurtleff said he and attorneys from his office explained provisions of HB497 and discussed aspects of the law of concern to DOJ attorneys. Shurtleff has twice traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with DOJ officials regarding the Utah law.

Shurtleff, who described the visit as "a great meeting," said the DOJ offered no indication how it will proceed.

"We don't know if we satisfied them. They'll let us know," Shurtleff said. Utah officials also discussed aspects of HB116, the so-called guest worker bill, which was one of four bills passed by lawmakers in 2011 and signed into law in March.

If the DOJ plans to intervene, Shurtleff said he hopes it does so soon, because a federal court hearing on HB497 is scheduled for early December. State attorneys plan to ask U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups to allow Utah's immigration enforcement law to take effect.

Ideally, the state would like an answer from the federal court before the start of the 2012 Legislature, Shurtleff said.

Presently, the Department of Justice is challenging state laws passed by the legislatures of Arizona and Alabama.

While HB497 started as measure very similar to Arizona's contentious enforcement measure, the Utah bill was refined using U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's ruling that halted portions of Arizona's SB1070 as a guide, Shurtleff said. Bolton issued a temporary injunction against a portion of the law that would have required police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected of being an illegal resident. Other parts of the law were allowed to take effect, however.

Utah officials have maintained that Utah's legislation is considerably different than the Arizona law.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Utah called on the DOJ to challenge the constitutionality of HB497. "We'd like them to file a legal challenge," said executive director Karen McCreary, Tuesday.

McCreary said Utah's law has similar impacts and consequences to the Arizona law.

"It's why we filed the lawsuit," she said.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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