Utah Immigration Law Goes Into Effect, But Court Hearing Looms

May 10, 2011

A federal judge will consider blocking implementation of Utah's controversial immigration enforcement law during a hearing that starts this afternoon at 4 p.m. ET.

The law took effect today after civil and immigration rights activists failed to get Utah officials to agree to delay enforcement until after U.S. District Clark Waddoups rules on a plea for a temporary injunction.

Utah's law was modeled after the landmark measure in Arizona that required local police and county sheriffs to check the immigration status of suspects. The validity of the Arizona measure may now be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opposition from Hispanic groups, immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations resulted in the enactment of what the bill's sponsors consider to be a watered-down version of the law. Utah business interests and the Mormon Church, the dominant religious group in Utah, also sought a more moderate approach.

The changes require immigration status checks of those suspected of committing felonies and class A misdemeanors. Law enforcement officers have discretion when confronting suspects of lesser crimes and when investigating minor offenses, including traffic violations.

Still, civil and immigration rights groups object.

"This law has been wildly misrepresented as a kinder, gentler version of Arizona's discriminating law," says Karen McCreary of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "This ill-conceived law is just as harsh, turning Utah into a police state where everyone is required to carry their 'papers' to prove they are lawfully present."

The ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center are seeking a federal court injunction blocking the law, arguing it trumps federal authority over immigration issues and promotes racial profiling.

But Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff believes the law will stand up in court because it now excludes problematic provisions of the Arizona law.

Shurtleff spokesman Paul Murphy tells the Salt Lake Tribune, "We will defend [the law] and are confident that it will withstand any legal scrutiny."

The new law is part of a package of immigration measures supported by business and religious groups, including the Mormon Church. One measure establishes a "guest worker" program that accommodates illegal immigrants. It doesn't take effect for another two years and may face a challenge from the Justice Department because it also might usurp federal authority. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.