Utah’s Immigration Law Still in Limbo After Supreme Court Decision

Jun 26, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on Arizona’s immigration law, but the implementation of Utah’s similar “show me your papers” legislation - HB 497 -  is still awaiting a federal court decision.  The law gives police officers authority to check suspects’ immigration status, but immigrant advocates say the US District Court in Utah needs to consider racial profiling arguments that were not heard by the Supreme Court.

Victor Purtas is a community activist from United for Social Justice in Utah.  He was disappointed that the Supreme Court did not strike down Arizona’s “show me your papers” provision, and is nervous about what that might mean for Utah. 

“For me, this means racial profiling.  You know you’re harassing people for the color of their skin basically, and for the Supreme Court not to challenge that is a big disappointment,” said Purtas.

Esperanza Granados is a public policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.  She says US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups will have to address the civil rights arguments that were not considered by the high court in Arizona’s case.

“Here in Utah, we are not done yet.  And even in Arizona, it’s not the end of it.  There are still ongoing issues that need to be resolved definitively,” said Granados.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says that while both states have a “show me your papers” provision, Utah’s law does not have the same issues with racial profiling.  Arizona police are required to ask for documentation upon making a stop even for minor infractions.  In Utah, police would check status based only on a probable cause arrest for felonies or serious misdemeanors.  Shurtleff says one major question did get resolved when the Supreme Court decided that citizens should not be apprehended simply for being undocumented. 

“This is something that people have debated off and on constantly.  Is it a crime to be in this country in an undocumented status?  Is it a crime?  Justice Kennedy specifically said it is not a crime to remain in this country when you’re in a removable status – meaning you don’t have documents.  That’s why they ruled – because it is a civil, federal responsibility that the federal government has said this is ours and ours alone,” said Shurtleff.

State Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck says the ruling made it clear that immigration reform should be happening at a federal level. 

“I am heartened by the fact that the Supreme Court said that this is a federal issue.  It continues to be a federal issue.  And that gives us a lot of support for Utah, continuing to make our argument to Congress that they need to be dealing with implementing comprehensive immigration reform, so we don’t have to have these very disconcerting, piecemeal laws at a state level,” said Chavez-Houck.

In the meantime, immigrants and law enforcement officials are still in a holding pattern until the federal court makes its decision.