Are Utah’s Immigration Laws Constitutional?

Federal Judge Clark Waddoups has recently said that he will decide whether to delay his decision or whether to apply the immigration enforcement law in Utah to go into effect. The US Supreme Court will decide on a similar immigration enforcement law in Arizona, and it is possible that U.S. District Court Judge Waddoups will wait until that decision to make his judgment.

At stake is Utah’s House Bill 497, which went into effect eight months ago and was blocked by Waddoups within 14 hours. If Waddoups decides to wait until the US Supreme Court decision about the Arizona law, House Bill 497 may be on hold for six months or more. The US Supreme Court may make a decision about the Arizona law in June 2012.

In Utah, House Bill 497 authorizes police officers to check immigration status and US citizenship status of every arrested person. The law does not require police officers to check the immigration status of every individual they meet. At question is whether this law – and others like it, including the Arizona immigration enforcement law – are constitutional. Some opponents of the law argue that such laws are not constitutional because they violate rights against unlawful arrests and searches. One of the other issues is whether laws such as Arizona’s and Utah’s enforcement laws interfere with federal immigration authority.

In Utah, Waddoups has questioned whether House Bill 497 does not overstep current federal immigration laws by making it illegal for illegal immigrants to be in the state. Waddoups also questioned what limits were in place in terms of requesting individuals’ immigration status. Justice Department attorney Josh Wilkenfeld has said that similar laws as House Bill 497 have already been struck down in South Carolina, Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, by federal judges.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Barry Lawrence, however, argues that House Bill 497 simply reflects current federal immigration laws and does not go as far as Arizona laws. He notes, for example, that Arizona’s law allows illegal immigrants to be held indefinitely while Utah’s law does not. Utah’s law, he argues, also gives more flexibility to police authorities to uphold the law, including immigration laws. According to Lawrence, the law is designed to help the state track criminals who are also in the country illegally.

The American Civil Liberties Union and National Immigration Law Center, however, argues that House Bill 497 in Utah oversteps federal authority, which is the immigration authority in the US. The organization also claims the law could pave the way to racial profiling.