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updated 5/10/2011 4:59:18 PM ET 2011-05-10T20:59:18

A federal judge has blocked a new Utah immigration law that lets police check the citizenship status of anyone they arrest.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled Tuesday in Salt Lake City hours after the law went into effect.

Two civil rights groups had sued to stop the law, contending it was modeled after an Arizona law currently before the federal courts and its implementation could lead to racial profiling.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says the law is constitutional.

The law requires police to verify a person's U.S. immigration status if they are arrested for a serious crime. Immigration checks are optional for lesser crimes.

Civil rights attorneys spent much of Monday trying to persuade state officials to voluntarily delay the law's implementation.

Police chiefs and county sheriffs, however, said very little will change in their handling of immigration laws, and none of them expected a rash of immigration-related arrests. No department contacted by The Associated Press reported any special training or preparation.

"We're not going to be knocking on doors or rounding up people in the parks," Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said. "The people we're coming in contact with are already engaged in other criminal behavior."

The citizenship status of anyone booked into a Utah jail for a felony or drunken driving is already checked because of a law passed in 2008.

The new law goes further, allowing officers to arrest people for minor offenses if they can't prove their legal presence in the country, which has frightened many Hispanics, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said.

Already, the department is hearing from shelters and rape crisis centers about victims who refuse to talk to the police because they fear deportation.

"We do our job based on community trust," Burbank said. "When a segment of the community doesn't trust us, the rest of the communities lose trust in the police."

Despite claims by opponents that the law it is almost identical to the Arizona law, Utah leaders closely scrutinized their version for constitutional red flags, said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Stephen Sandstrom.

Law enforcement has mostly been supportive of the bill, as well.

"They're going to use this as a tool," Sandstrom said. "They were confident they could implement it, because it's spelled out pretty clearly when a person would be checked."

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Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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