Judge upholds Utah's Arizona-like immigration law, but with limits

Judge upholds Utah's Arizona-like immigration law, but with limits
Protesters gather in February 2013 at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, where U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups heard oral arguments on HB497, Utah's immigration enforcement law. (Scott G. Winterton / Deseret News)

A federal judge issued a split ruling Wednesday on Utah's controversial immigration law passed in 2011.

The law, modeled after Arizona's show-me-your-papers provision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in September 2012, required police to verify the immigration status of anyone arrested for a serious crime. It also allowed police to check the immigration status of people stopped for less serious crimes, such as traffic violations.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups upheld the provision that requires police to check the immigration status of people arrested for felonies or certain misdemeanors, such as theft, and gave them the discretion to check the citizenship of those stopped for traffic violations and other lesser offenses.

However, he imposed limits on its implementation, which advocates say will prevent abuse and discrimination, according to the court decision.

For example, officers cannot hold a person longer than normal just to wait for federal officials to verify immigration status. So if someone is stopped for a speeding ticket, or something that wouldn’t usually require a booking, he or she could not be detained solely on the basis of doubts about immigration status.

"We see the decision as a victory because the part of the decision that upheld the show-me-your-papers provision severely limited them,” Shiu-Ming Cheer, one of the immigration lawyers from the National Immigration Law Center who was part of the counsel for the case, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

Waddoups also blocked provisions that allowed warrantless arrests based solely on suspicion of immigration status and that made it a state crime to harbor a person who is in the country illegally.

“It's basically part of an extension of what we’ve seen around the country of courts rejecting anti-immigration laws,” Cheer said. “This is a decision by the District Court judge, and we really think that the federal government should take note that states across the country are stepping back form anti-immigrant measures.”

The ruling comes more than three years since the law was passed. The measure had been shelved pending the court review.

“We’re reviewing the ruling to determine how it impacts the package of bills passed in 2011,” said Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Utah governor's office.

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