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Federal judge merges Utah illegal immigration lawsuits, postpones hearing

Published: Monday, Nov. 28 2011 3:44 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge Monday postponed a hearing to determine whether his court order banning enforcement of Utah's new illegal immigration should remain in place.

The U.S. Department of Justice wants to merge its lawsuit filed against the state last week with one the ACLU of Utah and the National Immigration Law Center filed in May. Both challenge the constitutionality of HB497, an enforcement-only bill the Utah Legislature passed this year.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued an order temporarily blocking enforcement of the law May 10, the day it was to take effect. He had scheduled a hearing Friday in the ACLU case to consider arguments for and against making that permanent until the case runs its course.

In filing the motion to consolidate the cases, the DOJ proposed a schedule pushing the hearing to at least early February.

Waddoups ordered the cases to be combined and set the hearing for Feb. 17.

While Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff agrees it is appropriate to combine the "substantially similar" cases, he opposed a protracted hearing schedule, according to court documents.

"HB497 has been subject to this court's temporary restraining order since May 2011, which continues to prejudice the state of Utah and its ability to enforce its laws," assistant Utah attorney general Barry G. Lawrence wrote. "Moreover, the United States has known of the issues relating to this case for months, yet has waited until 10 days before the scheduled hearing to file its lawsuit."

Shurtleff contends the DOJ had ample time to file its suit and prepare for the Friday hearing, but failed to do so. He asked the court "to do everything in its power to expedite this matter," suggesting a hearing in January.

HB497 requires police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors and those booked into jail on class B and class C misdemeanors. It also says officers may attempt to verify the status of someone detained for class B and class C misdemeanors.

The federal lawsuit filed last Tuesday claims the law is unconstitutional because it attempts to establish a state immigration policy.

The ACLU class-action suit contends the measure invites racial profiling and is unconstitutional in several ways, including violating rights against unreasonable searches and the right to travel freely.

Email: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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