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A federal judge said Tuesday he will not rule on Utah's enforcement-only immigration law until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a similar enforcement-only law in Arizona a few months from now.
U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, in his decision, said that while the Utah Attorney General's Office made it clear that the state's law, HB497, was different from what Arizona passed almost two years ago, it was close enough that the high court's decision could ultimately impact Utah's law.
"Because this case addresses significant constitutional issues, the court does not believe it would be helpful to the parties for the court to rule on the present motions before it receives the additional guidance from the Supreme Court," Waddoups wrote in his two page decision.
The hearing on HB497 pitted U.S. Department of Justice lawyers and attorneys with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah against Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office when they argued for more than six hours in federal court Friday.
The law, which somewhat mirrors enforcement-only immigration measures in Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona, is a state-based approach that uses local police to enforce federal immigration law. It was signed into law March 15 by Gov. Gary Herbert.
The Justice Department sued Utah in November, claiming the state was flouting the federal government's jurisdiction over immigration law.
Attorneys with the NILC also argued Utah is overreaching with such a law despite Utah's claim that it only requires the legal status of a person be checked if the person is arrested and booked on a felony or Class A misdemeanor offense.
Shurtleff's office has said the law is distinct from Arizona's, which was broader in scope and would've had undocumented immigrants facing state charges in addition to federal charges for being in Arizona without proper papers.
Shurtleff said he was surprised the judge decided to hold off on ruling and that he allowed the law to remain enjoined until that time.
"He could've made that decision a month ago and saved time and expense of the state and federal governments," Shurtleff said. "I'm disappointed he refused our request to dismiss his temporary restraining order and let our law take effect pending the Supreme Court decision."
But Shiu-Ming Cheer, immigration attorney with the NILC, said she wasn't surprised by the judge's decision noting Waddoups had hinted at that after the hearing wrapped up Friday.
"We do feel confident in our argument that the law is unconstitutional," she said.
The Supreme Court will hear Arizona's SB1070 in April and it is expected to issue a decision in either May or June.