SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff met with two assistant attorneys general Monday in Washington in a continued an effort to stave off litigation from the U.S. Justice Department over the state's recently passed immigration reform package.
Whether a lawsuit will be filed against the state remains to be seen, Shurtleff said. While meeting with Assistant Attorney General Tony West for the civil division and Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez of the civil rights division, Justice officials "made no threats and made no promises," he said.
Shurtleff was already scheduled to be in Washington for the Immigration Law and Policy Conference at Georgetown University when the meeting was requested by West and Perez.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department only uses litigation against states "as a last resort." She wouldn't comment specifically on the Utah laws.
The reforms passed in March by Utah lawmakers include a program allowing illegal immigrants to live and work in the state if they register and pay a fee. The effective date was delayed by two years so a federal waiver could be pursued.
Securing that waiver will be difficult, Shurtleff said during the conference, and would probably need congressional approval.
Utah legislators also passed an enforcement law similar to Arizona's that is effective in May. However, the law does not include provisions of the Arizona law that a federal judge has put on hold because of a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department.
In its challenge, federal lawyers argued the measure intrudes on its exclusive authority to regulate immigration, disrupts U.S.-Mexico relations, hinders cooperation between state and federal officials, and puts burdens on legal immigrants.
The Arizona law has become an albatross for the state, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said during the conference.
"We've been economically hurt, and the business community knows it," Goddard said. "Our farming community has been particularly hurt because of the lack of migrant work."
The reform package passed by Utah is a positive step forward for the national debate, said Immigration Works president Tamar Jacoby. While elements of the Arizona law remain, the guest worker program provides a balance.