Judge hears challenges to Utah's immigration enforcement law

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SALT LAKE CITY — The states have a narrow role in assisting the federal government in the enforcement of federal immigration law, attorneys seeking a preliminary injunction of Utah's immigration enforcement law argued before a federal judge Friday.

On Friday morning, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups heard arguments on a motion to keep HB497 from taking effect because it usurps federal authority and creates burdens beyond federal law.

Attorneys representing the state of Utah, meanwhile, argued the state has a legitimate interest in knowing the status of illegal immigrants within Utah and that HB497 does not conflict with the federal government's statutory or constitutional powers to regulate immigration.

Waddoups cautioned attorneys to confine their arguments to matters of law and constitutionality.

By way of framing, HB497 is an unconstitutional attempt by the state to regulate in an area where the state has no control.

–Karen Tumlin, plaintiff's attorney.


"Whether this act is good policy or bad policy is not of concern to this court," Waddoups said.

Joshua Wilkenfeld, attorney for the Department of Justice, said the states provide a role in assisting the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law.

"HB497 turns this on its head," Wilkenfeld said, explaining that the legislation creates new state-specific immigration crimes that are barred by federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

Karen Tumlin, plaintiff's attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, said the states have narrow latitude to enforce federal immigration law.

"By way of framing, HB497 is an unconstitutional attempt by the state to regulate in an area where the state has no control," Tumlin said.

About HB497
  • Passed during the 2011 Legislature session.
  • Signed into law in March.
  • 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..
  • Says officers may attempt to verify the status of someone detained for class B and class C misdemeanors.

As lawyers argued their positions in court, about 50 protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse picketing HB497 and demanding justice.

"I feel like the most basic simple thing is it will encourage some form of discrimination," said protester Diego Ibanez.

The class-action lawsuit filed by civil rights attorneys in May claims 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, in its response to the DOJ's motion for seeking preliminary injunction of the law, said concerns about a state's law on international policy "are purely speculative and legally irrelevant."

Moreover, Utah's law passes constitutional muster, state attorneys have maintained.

HB497 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. Contrary to the United States' arguments, HB497 does not conflict with Congress' mandate but is entirely consistent with it," state attorneys wrote.

Contributing: John Daley

Email: mcortez@ksl.com


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