Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld a federal law that makes it illegal for undocumented immigrants to own firearms. The Tenth Circuit includes Utah, but the case, United States v. Huitron-Guizar, arose out of Wyoming when Emmanuel Huitron-Guizar was arrested for owning three firearms. To challenge the constitutionality of the congressional law, Mr. Huitron-Guizar relied on language in District of Columbia v. Heller, which seemed to suggest that owning a firearm is an “individual right.”
The Tenth Circuit didn’t say whether a permanent resident or other immigrants can be denied firearms. The Supreme Court generally allows Congress to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens or to distinguish between undocumented aliens and legal aliens. As the Tenth Circuit noted, Congress has the power under the Constitution to determine rules for citizenship and to govern immigrants who seek citizenship.
What most interests me about this case, however, is that Mr. Huitron-Guizar has lived in the United States since he was three years old. He is now 24 years old, and he has lived in Wyoming for the greater part of 21 years. Now he is waiting deportation to Mexico, where he likely does not remember living. The particular firearms he owned would not have been illegal for him to possess if he had been a citizen.
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.
You wouldn’t know it from hearing Mormon politicians discuss their views on immigration, but their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a fairly pro-immigration stance. Mitt Romney, during a January Republican presidential candidate debate, said he favors “self-deportation,” which he described as making it difficult for undocumented aliens to find work, so they return home. Russell Pearce, also a member, was one of the sponsors and main advocates of Arizona’s strong immigration law. (Pearce has since been voted out of office through Arizona’s recall election procedures.) Jason Chaffetz, Utah’s U.S. Representative for the 3rd congressional district, has also been a vocal opponent of immigration.
The LDS Church, which includes a large number of immigrants among its members, has a friendlier stance. When Utah was passing its own immigration law last year, church officials decided to endorse the bill, after they ensured that the bill included “guest worker” permits to allow undocumented aliens with jobs to stay in the United States. The LDS Church also released a number of explicit statements in favor of allowing some undocumented workers to stay.
So why the dichotomy between official church position and some of its most prominent politicians? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
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.