Groups ask judge for hold on Utah immigration law

May 6 2011 - 9:40pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Two civil rights groups asked a federal judge Friday to stop a Utah immigration law from taking effect next week, saying it would create a police state and violate constitutional rights to due process.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center sought the injunction in federal court in Salt Lake City seeking to delay the law, which is modeled on Arizona's enforcement measure.

Because the law could force people to prove their citizenship when arrested for any crime, there is the very real danger of racial profiling by police officers if it goes into effect, said Karen Tumlin, the law center's managing attorney.

The groups filed a lawsuit earlier this week to overturn the law based on constitutional grounds. They argue that the enforcement law is very similar to an Arizona law that is also currently before the courts.

The Utah law, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March, requires people to prove their citizenship if they're arrested for serious crimes -- ranging from certain drug offenses to murder -- while giving police discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offenses.

Herbert is confident Utah will win the lawsuit.

"We're on sound footing with all of our immigration bills, particularly the enforcement measure," he said. "I don't believe at all that it will lead to racial profiling."

In the filing, the groups claim that giving discretion to police officers forces everyone to carry papers proving their legal presence in the U.S. -- even pedestrians or passengers in a vehicle -- and violates basic civil liberties to a fair trial and freedom to travel.

Nearly two dozen people filed affidavits in support of the lawsuit Friday, including Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank.

Burbank wrote that the law would open the door for racial profiling, overwhelm jails and reallocate resources to civil immigration offenses instead of criminal investigations. Also, it would "negatively impact public safety by driving a wedge between Utah police and the communities we are sworn to serve."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has previously said the Utah law is "completely defensible" because police are not required to check the status of everyone they stop.

Arizona's immigration law includes a provision that would require officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. That provision and a few others are on hold pending court action.

Shurtleff said the Utah Legislature also removed a "reasonable suspicion" provision from House Bill 497 before it passed, which could have led to racial profiling.

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