Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2011
Utah won national attention this year for promoting a gentler approach to immigration when it passed a law essentially allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the state if they work and don’t commit crimes.
Yet on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center filed a federal lawsuit to stop the implementation next week of another Utah immigration law, one modeled on a controversial Arizona law that enlists local police to help root out illegal immigrants.
Utah’s HB 497 is a watered-down version of Arizona’s law, most of which was put on hold last year by a judge who ruled that it was unconstitutional, a decision upheld last month by a federal appellate court.
The Utah version does not create a new crime and only requires an investigation into a person’s status after arrests for a felony or misdemeanor. HB 497 was passed by the conservative state Legislature at the same time as the state’s guest-worker program, which would give a legal identity card to illegal immigrants who pass a background check, pay a fine and are employed.
Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff said the state’s leaders scrambled last year to stop hard-liners from passing an Arizona-style law and repealing two other pro-immigrant measures. “It was going south real fast,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Business leaders came up with the idea of the Utah Compact, a statement of principles that urged law enforcement to focus on stopping crime rather than enforcing federal immigration law. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is growing rapidly overseas, has signed on, and what seemed like a long-shot proposal got new life. Meanwhile, state legislative leaders repeatedly weakened the bill that became HB 497.
The guest-worker law would require a federal waiver, and critics say it clearly flies in the face of federal law, which does not allow any state to create its own immigration policy. That bar is what doomed much of Arizona’s law last year and is cited by the plaintiffs who sued Utah on Tuesday over its enforcement law.
The plaintiffs said they did not sue over the guest-worker law because it would not take effect until 2013.