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Judge grills state on purpose of Utah's immigration law

Published February 16, 2013 11:59 am

Enforcement only • Case taken under advisement, but many expect statute to be thrown out or scaled back.
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Over the course of two hours Friday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups asked a variation on the same question several times to Utah Assistant Attorney General Phil Lott about the state's enforcement-only immigration law.

"[You] have the same right to do what you're already doing, so why do we need this statute?" Waddoups asked.

Lott said HB497 was a "complement" to federal law — a statute that reinforced a cooperative partnership between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police designed to nab illegal immigrants.

Lawyers with the Justice Department and the National Immigration Law Center argued it promotes warrantless arrests, creates confusion among police amid a patchwork of criminal classifications across 50 states and endangers legal residents who may unknowingly violate the law by taking an undocumented immigrant child to school.

"We think the judge had real questions for the state today," NILC attorney Karen Tumlin said. "To make sure individuals aren't deprived of their liberty without probable cause for their arrest."

Waddoups — who ordered the oral arguments as well as a series of briefs in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's enforcement-only law, SB1070 — will now weigh everything and issue a ruling. He gave no time frame for issuing a ruling.

In the meantime, the law passed by the Utah Legislature in 2011 and sponsored by former Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, remains under an existing restraining order keeping it from taking effect.

The law was signed — along with four other bills — by Gov. Gary Herbert that same year amid a rising tea-party movement to crack down on illegal immigration and little sign of comprehensive immigration reform coming from the federal government.


Twitter: @davemontero






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