By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A federal judge issued a split ruling Wednesday on a controversial Utah immigration law, saying the state can verify the legal status of arrested persons, but cannot detain someone without a warrant based on an officer’s suspicions or a racial profile.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups in Salt Lake City also tossed out a portion of the law which made it a state crime to harbor an illegal immigrant, and he struck down a provision which required local police to investigate immigration offenses.
The 30-page decision comes more than a year after the case was argued in Salt Lake City's federal court, and three years after lawmakers passed the Utah Illegal Immigration Act.
Modeled after a similar law in Arizona, the measure was part of a package of bills dubbed the "Utah solution" to immigration reform and had been due to take effect in May 2011.
But implementation was delayed first by a lawsuit filed by civil rights activists, and then by an injunction issued by Waddoups so that the legal challenge to Arizona’s enforcement-only law could play out before the U. S. Supreme Court.
Justices upheld some portions of the Arizona legislation and struck down others.
It was not clear on Wednesday whether Utah would appeal the Waddoups decision. State officials did not immediately return calls for comment.
National Immigration Law Center attorney Karen Tumlin, who helped argue the Utah case, called the ruling a victory and said that even in upholding portions of the law the judge had set clear limits on how far Utah police can go.
"The court did say that nearly every challenge we raised is unconstitutional and should be blocked," she said.
"The decision makes efforts to ward off overzealous attempts to determine whether someone is American based on the way they look or whether they have an accent."
(Reporting by Jennifer Dobner; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)