SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – Two of Utah’s top officers are asking Congress to reject a bill that may require local cops to enforce federal immigration laws. They joined 16 other law enforcement leaders from across the country in a letter to Congress.
The National Immigration Forum, a national immigration advocacy group, gathered the signatures from law enforcement leaders to ask Congress to adopt a different approach to defund sanctuary cities. Salt Lake City Interim Police Chief Mike Brown along with Commissioner Keith Squiers signed their names alongside police chiefs from Indiana, Arizona, and Texas among others from across the country.
The letter in part says, “a number of these proposals to defund so-called sanctuary cities sweep too broadly, punishing state and local law enforcement agencies that engage in well-established community policing practices or adhere to federal court decisions that have found federal immigration detainers to violate constitutional protections.”
While the never specifically mentions the “Stop Sanctuary Cities Act,” by name, its aim is that bill which is to be taken up for debate by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Late Wednesday afternoon Commissioner Squiers’s office issued a statement clarifying his positions.
In part it reads, “His understanding of the letter’s intent was to inform legislators that defunding federally supported programs could adversely affect public safety in our community,”
Both Squiers and Brown hold that they will not enforce federal immigration laws as immigration enforcement is, first and foremost, a federal responsibility.
Brown’s stance echoes that of former Salt Lake City Police Chief Burbank who spoke for keeping local police out of immigration enforcement.
This bill is in response to an increase attention on immigration after a woman was murdered by an immigrant who had been deported multiple times to Mexico living in San Francisco – a so-called sanctuary city. In his statement, commissioner Squiers says that he does not support these sanctuary cities if their interpretation is in violation of federal law.
The statement further explains, “The commissioner fundamentally supports the philosophy and practice of community policing where agencies collaborate with the community to identify and solve community problems.”
By behaving as enforcers of immigration laws, Utah’s police leaders believe it would deter members within the Hispanic community from coming forward in reporting crimes for fear of deportation or being questioned about their immigration status.
Interim Police Chief Mike Brown has called the signing of the letter law enforcement’s effort in taking the next step in immigration enforcement.
In a statement released Thursday night he says. “I and fellow Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force members are intending to change the narrative about law enforcement and its place in immigration enforcement. In diverse cities across the nation, law enforcement officers battle for trust and work tirelessly to instill a model of community-oriented policing that will be negatively affected by efforts of our government to mandate immigrant-status checks within our tactics.”
He further adds, “My goal in signing this letter is to conduct a dialogue with the Senate Judiciary Committee on focusing efforts on changing the immigration system rather than intensifying our local policing programs. While Salt Lake City is not a so-called ‘sanctuary city,’ our law enforcement model focuses on providing service and public safety to all citizens of our city, regardless of status or demographics.”
Over the years, police have grown their relationship with the Latino community which Tony Yapias with Projecto Latino de Utah says would be a shame to have it deteriorate.
“I support local law enforcement who are concerned with making sure our neighborhood and communities are safe rather than focusing on immigration.”
Juan M. Ruiz, President of the Latin America Chamber of Commerce says he has also noticed the relationship improve.
He reminds people that most immigrants who come to the country escape places where police are corrupt and fear law enforcement, the last thing that would need to happen in Utah is to bring back those fears.
He says a few years back he remembers cases where many members of the Latino community would not report crimes and would rather stay in dangerous situations than approach police.
He points to a case where a woman was in an abusive relationship and chose to remain in abusive relationship rather than turn to police.
He says the actions law enforcement has taken to improve relations, build trust, and show the community they care about their safety has increased the confidence in the police.
He reiterates that it is much more important for police and the community to work together and put dangerous criminals behind bars than to alienate a community for fear of deportation when enforcement of immigration laws should fall solely on the federal government.
“I think it sends a really powerful statement to Washington, that not just that the system is broken but that it needs to be fixed but also that there has to be that separation between the local agencies that have to earn that trust with the local communities and the individuals regardless of immigration status.