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U.S. District Court Will Not Rule on Immigration Bill from 2011

Civil rights attorneys argued for making permanent an injunction against a contentious immigration enforcement law on Friday afternoon, while protesters stood vigil outside the district courthouse. This story explains why we’ll have to wait a little longer for the court’s decision.

Lawmakers passed HB497 and Governor Gary Herbert signed it into law in 2011. But the law was blocked by a federal restraining order, just hours after being signed. It has been called a copycat law, because it resembles controversial legislation signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, that at the time was called the most punitive immigration enforcement law in the country. Today’s hearing marked the first time oral arguments were heard since US District Judge Clark Waddoups announced he would wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the Arizona law. That ruling, which struck down 3 out of 4 provisions of the Arizona law, was handed down in June.

David Morales, one of the plaintiffs in court today, and an undocumented immigrant himself says that laws like HB497 are unreasonable, and damaging to individuals and families.

“The Federal Government already has a federal program. They already have agencies like ICE, DHS, Border Patrol and other immigration related agencies. And for the states to feel like the Federal Government isn’t doing enough to secure their borders is not enough reason for them to implement laws that will cause racism and discrimination.”

Attorneys from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Utah argued that under the US Constitution, the federal government should have control over immigration and that states are neither responsible nor empowered to enact the kinds of changes HB497 suggests. Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU of Utah said that she was hopeful that the court would prohibit enforcement of the law.

“We are very hopeful that it will continue to be permanently enjoined in our state. I think our legislature was unwise in acting the way it did to get in the way of what really is both the Federal Government’s responsibility, but that also raises a lot of constitutional issues for people here in Utah.”

Court adjourned with no decision being handed down, but attorneys for both the plaintiffs and the state of Utah say that a decision will likely come in within weeks. Philip Lott, with the Attorney General’s Office, said that he is confident the state made a strong case for the law.

“We feel confident with how we argued the case and we feel that many of the provisions will be upheld. Immigration is primarily a federal issue but I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that illegal immigration impacts the states as well.”

Elements of HB497 that are similar to the law signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer included a requirement for law enforcement officials to verify the immigration status of people arrested of certain crimes.

David Morales says that the issue is personal to him, and that the argument he and other undocumented immigrants are making is that this is a Human Rights issue.

“We know that we came here illegally, that we came here unauthorized. But once you have a family that’s starving and once you realize that your family can die if you don’t take extreme actions…that’s exactly what my parents did. I know that they broke the law. I know that I broke the law also, and there should be a penalty for it. But to have people deported who have grown up here their whole lives is just inhumane.”