A federal judge issued a split ruling on Utah's controversial immigration law. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups upheld a key provision that requires police work with federal authorities to check the immigration status of people arrested for felonies or certain misdemeanors such as theft, while giving authorities the discretion to check the citizenship of those stopped for traffic infractions and other lesser offenses.
The judge also set limits on implementation; officers cannot hold a person longer than normal just to wait for federal officials verify immigration status. That means if a person is stopped for a traffic offense that doesn't require booking, he or she cannot be detained solely because of questions about immigration status.
Waddoups' ruling struck down a provision that allows warrantless arrests based solely on suspicion of immigration status. He also struck down a part of the law making it a state crime to harbor a person in the country illegally, as well as one that requires local officers to investigate immigration offenses.
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The limits led immigrant-advocacy groups to claim victory in the ruling.
"The ruling is sending a clear message to state and local police that they can't stop, detain or arrest anyone solely for immigration purposes," said Jennifer Chang-Newell, senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights project.
The ruling comes more than a year after a hearing in the case and more than three years since the law was passed. The measure has been shelved pending a court review.
The ruling shows the tide is turning against these types of state immigration enforcement laws, said Chang-Newell. Judges in states such as Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama have also blocked key provisions in immigration laws.
A spokesman for the Utah governor's office said it was reviewing the ruling to determine how it impacts legislation passed in 2011.
Tony Yapias, immigration reform advocate and director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, praised elements of the ruling but said immigration issues would best be handled on a federal level. He applauded the judge for striking the warrantless-arrest provision, which he said would have led to racial profiling.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, a Republican from Orem who co-sponsored the law, said she was "not surprised, but disappointed" that three sections of the law were struck down. ell-known border hawk, Russell Pearce, and sponsored, rallied and pushed for Utah's measure.