[JURIST] Utah Governor Gary Herbert [official website] on Tuesday signed into law [press release] a package of bills aimed at both reforming the state’s immigration laws and challenging the federal government to take action for reform nationally. One of the four bills, H.B. 497 [materials], is an enforcement law similar to the controversial Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], and requires police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for an alleged felony or serious misdemeanor. The other bills are non-enforcement measures: H.B. 116 [materials] creates a guest worker program for illegal immigrants, allowing undocumented workers to live and work legally in the state, and the other two bills, H.B. 466 and H.B. 469 [materials], create programs that allow companies to recruit Mexican workers, and American citizens to sponsor foreign residents who want to work or study in the US. The guest worker pilot program requires a federal waiver and will not go into effect until 2013, a strategy aimed at forcing the federal government to engage the issue at a national level. Governor Herbert praised the bills and lauded state officials for their efforts:
There are those who will say these bills may not be perfect, but they are a step in the right direction and they are better than what we had. Thanks to the vision and determination of these local leaders, what we have begun today is a framework for a national conversation about immigration and a means to engage the federal government. Once again, Utah leads the nation in finding solutions and making tough choices.
Governor Herbert also referred to the summit he convened last summer that laid the foundation for the legislation, calling the process “open, transparent, and civil.” As he signed the immigration bills into law the governor offered an explicit challenge to the federal government to engage in meaningful dialogue on the issue and bring about national reform.
Utah is one of several states that have developed legislation in the past year reflecting the controversial Arizona immigration law. The US Department of Justice [official website] in July filed suit [JURIST report] against Arizona Governor Jan Brewer [official website] seeking to permanently enjoin the state’s immigration law. The complaint states that the law is preempted by federal law and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause [text] of the US Constitution. The Arizona law criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual’s immigration status if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” to believe an individual is in the country illegally. It has been widely criticized in regard to the law’s constitutionality and alleged “legalization” of racial profiling. Additionally, in October a federal judge denied [JURIST report] motions to dismiss a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the law’s constitutionality, and in February Governor Brewer announced [JURIST report] a counterclaim [summary, PDF] against the US government in its lawsuit challenging the law. A three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on the case in November, but have not yet reached a decision on the matter.