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Utah's immigration enforcement law on hold until Supreme Court rules on Arizona law

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 6:58 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — An injunction against Utah's immigration enforcement law taking effect will remain in place while U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups awaits "additional guidance" from the Supreme Court.

In an order issued Tuesday, the judge said he would reserve ruling on a motion for preliminary injunction of HB497 filed by civil rights organizations and the Department of Justice.

"Important issues have been raised involving the Supremacy Clause and preemption. It is clear that the United States has preempted state action to a certain degree in area of immigration. How extensive that preemption is, however, is less clear," Waddoups wrote in his order.

On Friday, the judge heard oral arguments on the preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs argued that Utah's immigration enforcement law usurped federal authority, could lead to racial profiling and creates new law.

In defending the law, the Utah Attorney General's Office argued the measure was intended to cooperate with the federal immigration enforcement activities.

Dubbed the "Arizona-lite" enforcement act, state attorneys have maintained that the Utah law is significantly different than Arizona's SB1070 and that portions of it would stand regardless of how the high court rules, which Waddoups appeared to acknowledge in his order.

"Although Arizona's law is different from Utah's law in several respects, some aspects are sufficiently similar that the Supreme Court's ruling likely will inform this court in its decision," the order said.

Before taking the matter under advisement last week, Waddoups told the parties it was possible he might defer ruling until the Supreme Court ruled in the Arizona case.

Assistant Utah attorney general Barry Lawrence said the state preferred that the court not wait because implementation of Utah's law, passed during the 2011 Utah Legislature's general session, had already been on hold for nine months after it was "legitimately passed by both Houses." 

"Keeping it on hold frustrates the Legislature's ability to pass laws and enforce those laws," he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB497 into law in March. It requires police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors as well as 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.

In May, civil rights attorneys representing Utah Coalition of La Raza filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah claiming HB497 is unconstitutional and invites racial profiling.

The DOJ, which intervened in the lawsuit in November, has further argued that enforcing the law would inflict "irreparable injury on the United States' ability to manage foreign policy."

The Utah Attorney General's Office has maintained that Utah's law passes constitutional muster and should be allowed to go into effect because it reflects the state's attempt to "undertake its supporting role in the fight against illegal immigration, within the parameters set by Congress in those statutes."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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