Ruling Clarifies Utah’s Role in Immigration Enforcement

Jun 19, 2014

A federal judge issued a split ruling Wednesday on HB 497, Utah's controversial immigration law. It upholds several measures but strikes down others in the legislation that was passed in 2011.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups struck down a provision that allows warrantless arrests based solely on suspicion of immigration status. He also tossed a part of the law that made it a state crime to harbor a person in the country illegally and one that requires local officers to investigate immigration offenses. Jennifer Chang Newell is one of the ACLU attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case.

“This is an important decision because it sends a clear message to Utah law enforcement officers that states shouldn't be in the business of enforcing the immigration laws, and that in particular states can’t stop, arrest, or detain people solely because of their immigration status,” Newell says.

But a statement from Utah’s Attorney General says, “the decision affirms that there is a role for State action related to the area of immigration enforcement.” AG Chief of Staff Parker Douglas says the court upheld most provisions, including one that requires police work with federal authorities to check the immigration status of people arrested for felonies or certain misdemeanors.

“One thing we were quite pleased to see is that the court recognized that there was a place for the state to exercise coordinate authority,” Douglas says.  

All parties have 30 days to appeal. If there is no appeal, Douglas says the court will likely issue a summary judgment and final order. Then HB 497 would be in effect in Utah, with the exception of the provisions struck down by the court.