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Utah awaits Supreme Court immigration decision on Arizona

U.S. Supreme Court hears immigration arguments this week

SALT LAKE CITY — When the Supreme Court takes up the constitutional challenges to Arizona's immigration enforcement law Wednesday, the seismic impact could well shake the future of Utah's own immigration law.

"There's a lot at stake. All eyes are on what the Supreme Court does," said Karen Tumlin, attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, who argued on behalf of plaintiffs who have challenged the constitutionality of Utah's immigration enforcement law, HB497. The law was passed by the Utah Legislature in 2010.

If the Supreme Court leaves in place the injunction against the Arizona law, Tumlin said the national center's next move would be to ask U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups for a "direct, full opinion on the Utah law."

The Department of Justice sued to prevent implementation of the Arizona law, signed into law April 2010 by Gov. Jan Brewer, claiming that the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration laws. Arizona appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that states have the right to pass legislation because the federal government is failing to control illegal immigration.

Waddoups heard oral arguments on the Utah case in February but put the matter on hold awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling on the Arizona case. In his order informing the parties of his decision to wait, the judge noted while "Arizona's law is different from Utah's law in several respects, some aspects are sufficiently similar that the Supreme Court's ruling likely will inform this court in its decision."

Tumlin said Monday that the Supreme Court will examine four provisions of the Arizona law, three of which are similar or analogous to language in Utah's HB497.

Utah's law requires police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors as well as those booked into jail on class B and class C misdemeanors. It also says officers may attempt to verify the status of people detained for class B and class C misdemeanors.

Arizona's law expanded the powers of state police to ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop and to hold those suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Arizona's immigration enforcement law "went too far in some respects," said former Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, the legislative sponsor of Utah's HB497.

"It was really punitive and mean-spirited," said Sandstrom, a Utah County Republican who recently stepped down from the Legislature to run for Congress. He said HB497 takes "a more prudent approach."

The measure was intended to cooperate with the federal immigration enforcement activities, Sandstrom said.

But critics, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, have maintained that immigration enforcement is nearly exclusively the purview of the federal government.

Waddoups' order informing attorneys of his decision to postpone ruling in the case said challenges to the Utah law focused on pre-emption and the Supremacy Clause.

"It is clear that the United States has pre-empted state action to a certain degree in area of immigration. How extensive that pre-emption is, however, is less clear," the judge wrote.

Indeed, the case centers on the appropriate role for states to be involved in enforcement of immigration laws.

Number of illegals from Mexico drops

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the U.S. has dropped significantly for the first time in decades, a dramatic shift as many illegal workers, already in the U.S. and seeing few job opportunities, return to Mexico.

An analysis of census data from the U.S. and Mexican governments details the movement to and from Mexico, a nation accounting for nearly 60 percent of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. It comes amid renewed debate over U.S. immigration policy as the Supreme Court hears arguments this week on Arizona's tough immigration law.

Roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday.

In all, the Mexican-born population in the U.S. last year — legal and illegal — fell to 12 million, marking an end to an immigration boom dating back to the 1970s, when foreign-born residents from Mexico stood at 760,000. The 2007 peak was 12.6 million.