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Federal judge blocks Utah immigration law

By Bob Bernick

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a controversial Utah immigration law that required police to check the immigration status of those they detain for serious crimes.

The ruling by District Judge Clark Waddoups came on the same day the state law passed earlier this year went into effect.

The bill required police to demand evidence of citizenship or immigration status from those they arrest for felonies or serious misdemeanors.

The American Civil Liberties Union was a plaintiff in the suit, which was also brought by the ACLU of Utah and the National Immigration Law Center, among other groups.

"We are relieved that the Court agreed to delay implementation of this harmful law," Linton Joaquin, general counsel, National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement.

"We look forward to fighting to ensure that this unconstitutional law, which would subject people, particularly people of color, to unlawful interrogation and detention, and create a climate of fear in immigrant communities, will be removed entirely from the books."

Utah's Republican Governor Gary Herbert said in a statement that the state's attorney general and legislature worked to craft a bill that would withstand constitutional scrutiny.

"Utah will have ample opportunity in court to demonstrate this bill is on solid footing. Until then, we will adhere to the court's temporary restraining order," Herbert said.

Waddoups set a July 14 hearing to hear further arguments from both sides about the law.

The bill allowing local police to crack down on illegal immigrants was one of a package of laws Herbert signed earlier this year, which also includes provisions to create a guest worker program and employer verification.

It was milder than a similar measure signed by Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer last year that required state and local police to determine the immigration status of people they detained and suspected were in the country illegally.

Key parts of that law were blocked by a federal judge shortly before it came into effect in July 2010 last year, arguing that immigration matters are the federal government's responsibility.

The ruling was upheld last month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Governor Brewer this week said she would file a petition with the Supreme Court to lift the injunction blocking parts of the law.

(Reporting by Bob Bernick and Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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