The Justice Department on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging Utah’s immigration law, saying it illegally attempts to establish a state-specific immigration policy and creates immigration enforcement measures that interfere with the priorities and practices of the federal government.
The lawsuit is the fourth brought by the department against states that have recently passed legislation to crack down on illegal immigration in the wake of complaints that the federal government was not doing the job. The others are Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina.
“A patchwork of immigration laws is not the answer and will only create further problems in our immigration system,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “The federal government is the chief enforcer of immigration laws and while we appreciate cooperation from states, which remains important, it is clearly unconstitutional for a state to set its own immigration policy.
In the suit, the department said the Utah law — enacted in March — “clearly violates the Constitution” since its enforcement would interfere with the federal government “in a way which is not cooperative with the primary federal role in this area.”
The Utah law gives limited authority to state and local police to check immigration status for people lawfully stopped, detained or arrested for misdemeanors and felonies. It also requires that people arrested on felony counts must prove their citizenship.
The federal suit said Utah’s mandates on law enforcement could lead to “harassment and detention” of foreign visitors and legal immigrants now in the process of having their immigration status reviewed in federal proceedings and whom the federal government has permitted to stay in the U.S. while the proceedings are pending.
The federal government, according to the suit, has the “ultimate authority to enforce federal immigration laws and the Constitution does not permit a patchwork of local immigration policies.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, whose department joined Justice and State in the lawsuit, said the Utah law was representative of the kind of legislation that “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.”
“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,” she said.
Justice previously challenged laws passed in Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina on federal preemption grounds and said it will continue to review immigration-related laws passed in Indiana and Georgia.
Courts have enjoined key parts of the Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and Indiana state laws and temporarily restrained enforcement of Utah’s law.