At a press conference at the State Capitol today, immigration advocates of the group United for Social Justice released the results from an open-records request they filed in 2011 that shows the Attorney General’s Office has spent $85,278 defending House Bill 497, the 2011 immigration-enforcement bill that is currently being sued by civil-rights groups and the United States Department of Justice.
The bill passed in 2011 by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, would require local law enforcement to check the immigration status of all individuals arrested for serious misdemeanors and felonies, among other provisions. But the state was sued by immigrants'-rights groups in May 2011 for being unconstitutional, arguing immigration regulation is the jurisdiction of the federal government. In November, the Department of Justice also joined the lawsuit, and a hearing on the case is scheduled for Feb. 17.
After some wrangling, United for Social Justice received through an open-records request a tally of the taxpayer expenses spent by the Attorney General’s Office between May 19, 2011 and Dec. 31 2011 that showed the office staff spending 771 hours of work defending the bill at a cost of $85,278. Their figures don’t include litigation preparation in 2012.
“This amount may be small but it would have been money better spent on true state priorities,” said United for Social Justice member Mindy Hatch. She says the group is hoping that a better understanding of the legal bills involved in immigration legislation will encourage the Legislature not to pursue other costly pieces of legislation.
Victor Puertas, an immigrant from Peru and group member, argued that other costs result from these bills, such as making states seem hostile to Latinos and hurting business interests in the state. “We want Utah to be a state that welcomes people,” Puertas says “And a state that enforces human rights.”
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