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Federal judge 'de-fangs' Utah's immigration law

Published June 19, 2014 7:24 am

HB497 • Judge rejects many parts of the Utah "show me your papers" law, restricts others.
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A federal judge on Wednesday struck down much of a hard-fought "show me your papers" Utah immigration law and put enough restrictions on remaining portions of the law that opponents proclaimed it has been "de-fanged."

The ruling "very much takes the teeth out of HB497," passed in 2011, said Karen Tumlin, attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, which challenged the law with other immigrant and civil liberties groups and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The law — passed amid huge protests and hot debate — required police to verify the immigration status of anyone arrested for a serious crime. It also allowed, but did not require, police to check on people stopped for less serious crimes such as traffic violations.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups allowed those provisions to stand but said police cannot prolong a stop or detention "merely to confirm a person's immigration status," nor can police stop people just to check their status.

Tumlin said that means if police officers pulled someone over for a broken tail light, once a ticket is issued, they can no longer hold that person in hopes of determining their status.

It also means an immigrant "need not fear being charged with a misdemeanor or felony simply for driving her parent to the grocery store or a friend to church," said Archie Archuleta of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The bill's sponsor said that restriction is reasonable and limits most status-checking to serious criminals. "It guards against a rogue cop targeting people just over their immigration status, which was not my intent anyway," former state Rep. Steve Sandstrom, R-Orem, said.

Waddoups struck down a provision that allowed a warrantless arrest based only on suspicion of illegal immigration status, saying it "seeks to bestow on state officers greater discretion and authority than that possessed by federal immigration officials."

He rejected another provision that made it a crime to entice someone to enter the country illegally or to harbor undocumented immigrants.

He also struck down a provision requiring cities and counties to cooperate with any efforts toward alien registration.

Waddoups said such provisions interfere with the federal government's supremacy in such areas of immigration law.

The judge allowed provisions to stand that ban cities from enacting rules that hinder police from cooperating with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws, but said officers must first be expressly invited and authorized to assist by the federal government before they can act.

Waddoups upheld a portion of the law that allows police to drop off undocumented immigrants to federal immigration officials but put some tight rules on it.

He said federal authorities must authorize the transfer first. Also, the undocumented immigrant must have been stopped for some crime other than immigration violations, not have his detention prolonged to check status and already be in the lawful custody of police when transported (and not picked up just for that).

Waddoups also upheld a part of the law that allows people stopped by police to prove citizenship, if they wish, by presenting a driver's license, state ID card or similar documents.

The ruling by Waddoups comes after years of wrangling. He had put the law on hold hours after it took effect in 2011. He then waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on (and mostly reject) a similar Arizona law. Oral arguments on the Utah case occurred last year.

The Utah Attorney General's Office issued a statement saying the decision "affirms there is a role for state action related to the area of immigration enforcement," and that it upholds the state's ability "to legislate cooperative models of enforcement authority to assist federal officials."

Tumlin said the ruling keeps intact a series of wins across the country that have struck down similar bills after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Arizona bill. Utah's was one of the last cases still pending.

"This is the last court decision that rejects the string of anti-immigration laws that passed out as part of an anti-immigrant agenda in 2011," Tumlin said.

"The court's message is loud and clear: State and local police can't stop, detain or arrest someone solely for immigration purposes," said Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project who helped argue the case.

Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, called on the Legislature to repeal "what remains of this law following Judge Waddoup's ruling."

Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said the ruling will make Latinos "more willing to go to law enforcement to report crimes, especially when they are victims."

He added, "It's a victory for those of us who fought HB497," and lamented "that it wasted a lot of resources to try to defend it. Enforcing immigration laws is not the responsibility of the state, it is a federal responsibility."

Even Sandstrom, the law's author, praised Waddoups for issuing a "good, even-handed ruling" that helps ensure any local immigration actions are targeted at people involved in serious crimes.

Sandstrom said he has become less strident on immigration since the hot debates of 2011 after dealing with more people in the Latino community who were brought into the country by their parents. He said he worries about harassment of them.

HB497 was one of four bills passed as a package in 2011, billed jointly as a Utah solution to immigration. Sandstrom said despite the parts of the bill struck down now, he feels pushing the bill was probably worth it to raise awareness of immigration issues and move debates forward.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, the Senate sponsor of the bill said it "was generated out of necessity. We were forced to act because the federal government abdicated its constitutional responsibilities." She expects the Legislature to revisit immigration again.

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