Federal court blocks portions of Utah’s immigration enforcement law

Published: Wednesday, June 18 2014 8:35 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, June 18 2014 8:35 p.m. MDT

Protesters gather Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse, where U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups heard arguments on constitutionality of HB497, Utah's immigration enforcement law passed by the Legislature in 2011.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has blocked portions of HB497, an immigration enforcement law passed by the Utah Legislature in 2011.

Later that year, civil rights organizations sued the state over the law, arguing it violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and authorizes and requires unreasonable seizures and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment protections.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups' 30-page memorandum outlining his decision and order denied some of the plaintiffs' motions but granted others, specifically enjoining the state from enforcing portions of the law dealing with federal immigration enforcement assistance. Two other sections of the law that referred to warrantless arrests and harboring undocumented individuals were also pre-empted under the decision issued Wednesday.

However, the Utah Attorney General's Office in a statement said "the majority of the sections and the core of HB497 — those provisions dealing with the state's prerogative to legislate cooperative models of enforcement in harmony with federal statutes — were upheld by this decision."

Archie Archuleta of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Waddoups' decision "reinforces a simple truth: No one should fear being charged with a misdemeanor or felony simply for driving her parent to the grocery store or a friend to church. Although the fight for equality is not over, we are pleased to see that the court has prevented much of this law from harming countless Utahns.”

Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center who argued the case in Utah's federal court, said Waddoups' order "establishes a bright line" for Utah law enforcement.

"If local police prolong a traffic stop for even one minute to determine an individual’s immigration status, they risk running afoul of the U.S. Constitution," she said.

“The decision makes efforts to ward off overzealous attempts to determine whether someone is American based on the way they look or whether they have an accent," Tumlin added.

Meanwhile, the Utah Attorney General's Office said the decision affirmed that there is a role for the state with respect to immigration enforcement.

"The court, following the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Arizona v. United States, held that, with certain limitations, the verification provision, the identification provision, the transportation provision, and the provision barring any state or local restriction on law enforcement authority to assist federal officials in immigration matters are not pre-empted and accordingly not subject to preliminary injunction," the statement said.

Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, called on the Utah Legislature to repeal what remains of the law following Waddoups' decision, noting that the sponsor of the Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, former Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, had publicly acknowledged the law was not good public policy for the state.

“Since our lawsuit halted HB497 from going into effect three years ago, there has been growing acknowledgement among Utahns that state laws such as HB497 and Arizona’s law primarily cause division and strife within our community. As a state, we are better off working for longer-term comprehensive solutions that protect our families and enhance our economy," McCreary said.

Attorney General Sean Reyes said if the plaintiffs decide to appeal Waddoups' decision, “our office is ready to defend the district court’s decision.”

Waddoups wrote that the state can implement sections of the act not affected by the ruling, though "implementation is subject to the limiting constructions outlined in this decision." The entire law had been temporarily enjoined as Waddoups considered legal arguments from the state and plaintiffs' attorneys at two hearings on the lawsuit, as well as briefs filed by the parties and many others who filed amicus briefs.

HB497 was among a package of immigration bills passed by state lawmakers in 2011 during a contentious legislative session in which immigration issues dominated the Legislature's agenda.

Two other immigration-related laws passed that year were effectively shelved until July 1, 2015, under a bill passed by the Utah Legislature in 2013. The laws addressed issues related to guest workers and a pilot program to allow Utahns to sponsor foreign nationals.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he wanted to push back the effective date of the two laws in recognition of congressional Republicans' and Democrats' expressed willingness to address meaningful federal immigration reform. Civil rights groups' lawsuit over HB497 did not figure into his decision to postpone the enactment of the other laws, he said at the time.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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