Natty Shafer Law

Utah lawyer for criminal and immigration cases

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Arizona Immigration Law Goes Down; Utah Next?

We have a clearer picture of the future of Utah’s immigration law today, and there is both good news and bad news for immigrants in Utah. The United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling on Arizona’s immigration law and found three of the four parts to be unconstitutional and at odds with laws enacted by Congress. Utah’s immigration law is currently on hold; in February U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups put off issuing a decision on Utah’s law until he received “additional guidance” from the Supreme Court. Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, the Utah case will start moving again.

Parts of the Utah law are likely to be found unconstitutional. According to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, the ruling prohibits police from conducting a warrantless arrest of immigrants. This is a minor victory for immigrants in Utah since it means that Utah cannot arrest someone for their immigration status alone.

The part of the Arizona law which the Court did not strike down requires police officers to verify the immigration status of everyone they detain or arrest. The Court left open the possibility that it would later strike down the law, but declined to do so because it is not yet clear that Arizona will enforce the law in an unconstitutional manner. According to the Court, communication between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is encouraged by Congress, and therefore Arizona’s law was not preempted by federal law. The Court left open the possibility that the law could be overturned on other grounds.

Utah has a similar provision requiring police officers to check the immigration status of people they detain or arrest. Unless Utah implements the law in an unconstitutional manner—such as a racially motivated way—that part of the law is likely to stand. It remains to be seen how long a police officer can detain someone to verify immigration status.

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Utah’s Immigration Law Still in Limbo

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups announced that he will keep an injunction in place keeping Utah’s 2011 immigration law from taking effect. Judge Waddoups heard oral arguments on Friday, February 17, but he declined to make a ruling until he receives “additional guidance” from the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Arizona’s similar immigration law sometime in April and should issue its opinion in June.

For undocumented aliens, this means that Utah’s law may never take effect. As I mentioned last month, immigrants living in Utah are unlikely to notice any changes to their daily lives. Among the people I have interacted with, however, it does appear to have increased the urgency for permanent resident status.

If the Supreme Court rules against Arizona, it should dampen the enthusiasm of other states in passing immigration laws. If, however, the Supreme Court upholds Arizona’s law, we’re likely to see many more states pass some sort of immigration law.

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Utah’s 2011 Immigration Law

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.