You may have heard that in 2011 the Utah Legislature passed, and Governor Gary Herbert subsequently signed, House Bill 497, which the state intended to be a “solution” to perceived problems with immigration. However, due to an ongoing lawsuit between the federal government and the State of Utah, the key provisions of the bill may never go into effect.
The law requires Utah police officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a felony or a Class A misdemeanor. Other misdemeanors also require a check if the person is arrested. In November, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court requesting that the key provisions be declared unconstitutional and also requesting an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the law before the matter is settled in court. We should get a ruling on the injunction sometime in February; a hearing is scheduled for February 17. The judge’s ruling on the injunction should give us a pretty good idea of which way he is likely to rule on the constitutionality of the law.
Arizona’s similar (but more sweeping) law has not fared well in federal courts. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling that key provisions of Arizona’s law were unconstitutional. Only the Supreme Court can overrule the Ninth Circuit. Utah, which resides in the Tenth Circuit, could theoretically be subjected to a contradictory ruling, but the federal government seems confident in its case. In addition to Utah and Arizona, the Department of Justice also has lawsuits against Alabama and South Carolina for enacting immigration laws.
Until we get a definitive ruling, immigrants living in Utah are unlikely to notice any changes to their daily lives. Undocumented aliens will still need to be careful, but they can also live their lives just as they did before Utah passed its immigration law.