The Department of Justice today challenged Utah’s immigration law, which comes after recent lawsuits in Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina.
In a complaint, filed in the District of Utah, the department states that several provisions of Utah’s H.B. 497 are preempted by federal law. The provisions were enacted on March, 15, 2011.
The department’s lawsuit comes after several months of constructive discussions with Utah state officials. Notwithstanding today’s lawsuit, department officials expect this important dialogue to continue.
The department’s complaint states that H.B. 497 clearly violates the Constitution because it attempts to establish state-specific immigration policy. The law creates and mandates immigration enforcement measures that interfere with the immigration priorities and practices of the federal government in a way which is not cooperative with the primary federal role in this area. The law’s mandates on law enforcement could lead to harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants who are in the process of having their immigration status reviewed in federal proceedings and whom the federal government has permitted to stay in this country while such proceedings are pending.
“This kind of legislation diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “The Department will continue to enforce federal immigration laws in Utah in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens, recent border crossers, repeat and egregious immigration law violators and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor.”
The department notified Utah state officials of its position that the Utah’s Immigrant Guest Worker statutes, H.B. 116 and H.B. 469, are clearly preempted by federal law. Given that the provisions do not take effect until 2013, and in light of the constructive conversations the department continues to have with Utah officials about these provisions pursuant to the Justice Department’s long-standing policy of exploring resolution short of litigation before filing suit against a state, the department is not challenging these provisions today.