SALT LAKE CITY — Alicia Cervantes fears Utah’s new illegal immigration enforcement law will subject her to police questioning because she is Latina.
A U.S. citizen born in Utah, Cervantes also believes the passage of HB497 has already led to anti-immigrant sentiment in the state. Recently, her daughter’s classmates have said things such as “send the Mexicans home.”
For those reasons, Cervantes signed on as a plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday against the state of Utah over the law set to take effect May 15. It argues the measure is unconstitutional and will lead to racial profiling.
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The ACLU and National Immigration Law Center filed the complaint on behalf of several individuals and organizations including Utah Coalition of La Raza and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce. Lawyers this week intend to seek an injunction in U.S. District Court to stop the law from being enforced, said Karen McCreary, ACLU of Utah executive director.
Meantime, the Department of Justice sounds more and more like it might sue the state over the package of illegal immigration bills the Legislature approved this year. The federal government has already gone to court to stop Arizona’s enforcement law.
In a committee meeting Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said if Utah doesn’t make some adjustments, the DOJ would probably have to take action, according to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
That caught Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff off guard because he met with DOJ attorneys last week to go over the bills point by point.
“I was hoping that we had them convinced to wait,” he said.
Shurtleff said he was encouraged that Holder appears willing let the state make changes to the measures. HB116, the most controversial of the Utah bills, doesn’t take effect until summer of 2013.
On HB497, however, the ACLU chose to go to court now because the law is scheduled to be enforced this month.
McCreary contends it will turn Utah into a “show-me-your-papers” state. And she said though billed as kinder, gentler version of Arizona’s law, it is substantively the same.
Juan Manuel Ruiz, president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, called HB497 “a harassing law for the Hispanic community and others who look foreign. … If you don’t look very mainstream, you will have to worry about this law.”
The law requires police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors and those booked into jail on class B and class C misdemeanors. It also says officers may attempt to verify the status of someone detained for class B and class C misdemeanors.
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