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Immigration law opponents seek records on state costs

Published November 30, 2011 3:09 pm

HB497 • A.G.'s Office says defense expenses are nowhere close to Arizona's.
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A Utah-based social justice group is seeking the public release of expenditures by the Attorney General's Office to date on its legal defense of an enforcement-only immigration law being challenged in federal court.

United for Social Justice announced it filed the open-records request under the state Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

"It is the only way we can protect our society from further irresponsibility by those we trust enough to place into office," said group representative Mindy Hatch in a statement.

The lawsuit involving Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's HB497 has been tied up in U.S. District Court since May when the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center sought an injunction against it being enacted.

Last week, the federal government joined the lawsuit against Utah and U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups combined the lawsuits and set a hearing for Feb. 17.

The law — dubbed "Arizona Light" in the United for Social Justice statement — would require local police to check legal status of those arrested for felonies or major misdemeanors. Lesser crimes would give local police the option to check status of those they believed might be in the country illegally.

In Arizona, the legal defense of SB1070 — the model for HB497 — cost the state at least $1.5 million. Several components of that law were held up under a federal judge's ruling and Gov. Jan Brewer has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

Paul Murphy, spokesman for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, said the costs to the office wouldn't approach Arizona's cost.

He also said the office had yet to receive the request, but pointed out that there won't be any documents to turn over. He said the office has attorneys working on different lawsuits and they don't track hours separately.

"HB497 would be one of 20 different lawsuits they might be working on," Murphy said.

He said they would respond to the GRAMA request and they might be able to provide an estimate.

But United for Social Justice claims in its statement that any amount of money spent on defending HB497 is wasteful.

"Since Sandstrom's initial press conference and into the 2011 legislative session, USJ has maintained that state-led immigration reform is unconstitutional and Utah's lawmakers should prevent passing along such a tax burden onto citizens in a time of economic distress," the statement said.

The law was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 15 along with a series of other immigration reform bills. It was only in effect for a few hours before the judge granted a temporary restraining order.


Twitter: @davemontero




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