With judge's decision, what's next for immigration reform in Utah?

Published: Thursday, June 19 2014 10:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 20 2014 9:12 a.m. MDT

The day after a federal judge struck down portions of the 2011 Utah’s Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, some Utah leaders want Utah Legislature to repeal HB497 while others contemplate the states' continuing role in the issue of immigration.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Former Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, sponsor of immigration enforcement legislation that was challenged in federal court, says he has no regrets about taking up the issue.

"It got the discussion going in our state, so some good things came of it. We started looking at the issue and maybe some people's minds changed because of it. Was it worth it? It probably was," he said.

But the Orem Republican, who returned to private life after an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2012, says if he could turn back the clock, he would have handled the issue differently.

"I think now, in hindsight, I would have gone about it in a different way. I would have actively engaged the Hispanic community and really sought their side of the story and what they're going through. If that would have happened when I was running the bill, it would have been a different bill," Sandstrom said Thursday, the day after a federal judge issued a mixed decision on constitutional challenges to the 2011 law.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups struck down parts of HB497, Utah's Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, but allowed other portions to go into effect. For instance, the law required police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for a serious crime. That stands.

But the judge wrote that police cannot prolong a stop or detention "merely to confirm a person’s immigration status."

Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, which was among a number of civil rights groups that challenged the constitutionality of the law, said that the plaintiffs would prefer that the Utah Legislature repeal the law.

Short of that, the ACLU and other groups that represented the plaintiffs who challenged HB497, plan to meet with clients and other community allies to discuss what to do next. The ACLU also plans to ask law enforcement agencies how they plan to move forward after the court decision.

Moving forward

The law has been on hold since civil rights groups filed suit in November 2011. "Since it's been three years since the law was delayed, that's been terrific for providing opportunities for people in Utah to step back, take a breath and realize we need to have a different approach than what we were doing in terms of the fear and the vilifying," McCreary said.

Community activist Tony Yapias said the tenor of the immigration discussion is drastically different now than the years when the issues were hotly debated in state legislatures.

"Back in 2011 when this bill passed, we were in the middle of this anti-immigration wave that started in Arizona the year previous to that. We're past that now. There isn't this immigration fever going on at the state level, all the talk of 'Get the illegals out,' " he said.

By and large, community leaders and elected officials now understand that Congress is the proper forum for comprehensive immigration reform, he said. The community conversation has shifted, evidenced by the widespread support for the Utah Compact and ongoing efforts by faith, law enforcement and business leaders pushing for federal reform, Yapias said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, the Senate sponsor of HB497, said in a statement issued following Waddoups' decision that states will continue to play a role in immigration issues.

"The reason we passed this bill in 2011 was to provide state direction in these areas where the federal government was failing in their duty to protect Utah citizens. The states will continue to play a role in immigration issues. As in the past, I will explore this role in upcoming legislative sessions," the statement said in part.

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