Utah's immigration enforcement law is under judicial scanner. Claiming that it usurps federal authority and could potentially lead to harassment and detention of American citizens and authorised visitors, the US justice department has filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
The law, signed by Governor Gary Herbert in March, requires people to prove their citizenship if they're arrested for serious crimes ranging from certain drug offences to murder. The police also has the discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offences.
In a statement, the justice department officials said: "The federal government has the ultimate authority to enforce federal immigration laws and the constitution does not permit a patchwork of local immigration policies. A state setting its own immigration policy interferes with the federal government's enforcement efforts.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Salt Lake City's US district court. It came after months of negotiations between Utah attorney-general Mark Shurtleff, the justice department attorneys, and the state's elected leaders.
The lawsuit, however, does not in any manner indicate the end to the discussions. In fact, the justice department officials said they plan to continue the discussions, despite the lawsuit.
Ally Isom, spokeswoman for Governor Gary Herbert, said: “The legislature worked diligently to craft a law that would pass constitutional muster. We hope the courts do the right thing.
The justice department had earlier challenged immigration laws passed by Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina, and continues to review immigration-related laws that were passed in Indiana and Georgia.
"This kind of legislation 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," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
"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 added.