SALT LAKE CITY | The congressman who heads the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has accused the Justice Department of being “hypocritical” for not pursuing legal action against a Utah law that approves a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, said in a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that the Utah law approving the program is unconstitutional, and called the department’s inaction a “stark contrast” to the federal government’s lawsuit against Arizona for a law “that merely complements and assists in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
“This is hypocritical. If [the Justice Department] chooses not to take legal action against Utah’s unconstitutional law, it will be clear the administration bases their decisions on their own political views rather than constitutional principle,” Mr. Smith said in a statement to the Associated Press.
The Utah law doesn’t take effect for two years, which state officials said was done specifically to avert a lawsuit. The state is seeking a federal waiver.
In his letter, Mr. Smith said the government’s inaction would reinforce the perception that it only opposes strict enforcement measures such as Arizona’s law.
In its challenge to Arizona’s law, the Justice Department argued that the measure intrudes on its exclusive authority to regulate immigration, disrupts relations between the U.S. and Mexico, hinders cooperation between state and federal officials, and burdens legal immigrants. A federal judge put key parts of Arizona’s law on hold in July, a ruling upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month.
Mr. Smith said that if the Obama administration “is serious about having a uniform immigration policy rather than a ‘patchwork’ of state immigration laws you profess to oppose, then the administration needs to take action against the Utah law.”
A showdown with federal officials is the last thing Utah wants, the state’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said. Mr. Shurtleff and Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, both Republicans, have met with federal officials, including members of the Justice Department.
Mr. Shurtleff said Mr. Smith’s letter is wrong and strictly political.
“He’s riding right along the line of the hard right-wing radicals,” Mr. Shurtleff said. “He’s trying to stick his nose into Utah’s business and play politics.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman said the letter was being reviewed.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s attorneys have argued that the federal government hasn’t effectively enforced immigration law and that the state’s intent in passing the law was to assist federal authorities, as Congress has encouraged.
Utah’s guest-worker program was part of an immigration reform package signed into law March 15 by Mr. Herbert. The package included an enforcement measure that was modeled on Arizona’s law that goes into effect in May.
• AP writer Kate Brumback contributed to this report from Atlanta.
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