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Utah immigration law still on hold despite U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Arizona case

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 5:16 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake Dream Team and Peaceful Uprising members sing during a rally at the Salt Lake City Library in Salt Lake City Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona's illegal immigration enforcement law may push a federal judge to rule on a similar Utah statute.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Related: High court rejects part of Arizona immigration law

Related: SCOTUSblog

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah police officers won't be asking suspected illegal immigrants for identification, at least for now, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a controversial Arizona law.

But Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff expects a federal judge to ultimately allow it based on the high court's decision.

"We do believe the ruling is primarily a win for the state of Utah and our HB497," he said. "We believe that because our law is substantially different, our verification provision will go forward."

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order against HB497 pending "additional guidance" from the nation's high court. The judge said he would reserve ruling on a motion for preliminary injunction filed by civil rights organizations and the Department of Justice. That injunction would bar enforcement of the law pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Though Shurtleff says Waddoups now has that guidance, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said it's not that cut and dried.

"I don't think it's that straight forward," said Karen McCreary, ACLU of Utah executive director, noting the Supreme Court decision in the Arizona case did not address racial profiling.

"I do believe ultimately this will be struck down at the Supreme Court or somewhere else because I don't think a 'show me your papers' provision in real life can be administered without racially profiling people."

HB497, approved by the 2011 Legislature, 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.

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona's crackdown on immigrants but said a much-debated portion on checking suspects' status could go forward.

Specifically, the court backed a section of the Arizona law that calls for police to check the immigration status of people they stop. It ruled the state cannot make it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to carry identification that says whether they are in the United States legally; make it a crime for undocumented immigrations to apply for a job; or arrest someone based solely on the suspicion that the person is in this country illegally.

Also emerging from the ruling was Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion that being in the United States without documentation is not a crime.

McCreary said the decision amounts to a "stop light" on three provisions and "blinking red light" on the fourth.

"If I were law enforcement, I would take note," said Marina Lowe, ACLU legislative and policy director. "The Supreme Court is sort of sending a message that you do need to be careful. Perhaps this does open the door for lawsuits against law enforcement on the basis of racial profiling if they choose to go forward with this type of a law."

Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed HB497 into law in 2011, said Monday's ruling acknowledges that the state has a role to play in identifying people who are within its borders illegally.

"The Supreme Court has validated this portion of the Arizona law and by doing so has validated the core part of Utah's HB497 passed in 2011,” he said in a statement.

Shurtleff said he hopes Waddoups' decision in the Utah case comes sooner than later. "Law enforcement needs to know what their job is," he said.

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