SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Utah’s immigration enforcement law, arguing that it usurps federal authority and could potentially lead to the harassment and detention of American citizens and authorized visitors.
“A patchwork of immigration laws is not the answer and will only create further problems in our immigration system,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “The federal government is the chief enforcer of immigration laws … it is clearly unconstitutional for a state to set its own immigration policy.”
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court after months of negotiations between Justice Department attorneys, state attorneys and elected leaders. Justice officials said they plan to continue those discussions despite the lawsuit.
Other federal agencies included in the lawsuit are Homeland Security and the State Department.
The Utah law, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March, requires people to prove their citizenship if they’re arrested for serious crimes ranging from certain drug offenses to murder. It also gives police discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offenses.
Utah’s enforcement law was part of an immigration reform package that included a program that will allow illegal immigrants with jobs to live and work in the state.