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Bills aim to identify illegals

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Park City Hall is opposed to two bills the Legislature is debating aimed at identifying illegal immigrants living in Utah.

Should they pass, undocumented people could be denied social services while state troopers crack down aggressively on those not authorized to live in the U.S.

Critics decry the bills as being anti-immigrant and lawmen who are unsure how the new mandates would affect them ask lawmakers to oppose measures they say would turn local cops into immigration agents.

A substitute version of House Bill 105, sponsored by Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, would require Utah’s Department of Public Safety team with the federal Department of Homeland Security to "perform a function of a federal immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States."

"We’re neutral on the bill, there are some good things and some bad things," Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Nigbur said.

Federal grants have helped states like Alabama implement similar programs to cross train about 50 officers to serve as immigration police, he said.

"We would only do it as a reactive thing, we’re not going to go out and proactively search for illegal immigrants," Nigbur said. "We already have tons to do it wouldn’t even be possible."

Still, empowering police officers to arrest illegal immigrants in Park City could hurt the city’s relationship with its immigrant community, says Park City Police Chief Lloyd Evans.

"One of the difficult parts of serving the community is gaining the trust of all members of your community," Evans said. "Immigration is a problem, but it needs to be addressed on a federal level I think legislation like [HB105] is letting the feds off the hook."

HB105 could force illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes to not file reports with police, he added.

"If people are concerned that our police officers and troopers are trying to deport them, they are a lot less willing to come forward in the event of a crime," said Gary Hill, a City Hall staffer who monitors the Legislature.

The Marsac Building won’t likely send officers to the same 5-week program HB105 could require troopers attend to bone up on immigration laws.

"It creates a precedent where you are really asking law enforcement officials to not only be immigration officials but also to be local law enforcement officials," Hill said.

By detaining illegal immigrants who commit crimes, however, Park City would be made safer, said Gary Shumway, a Jeremy Ranch blogger who campaigned as a Libertarian for a Statehouse seat last November.

"It’s very dangerous to have an open border, especially in these times," Shumway said. "We’re the ones who are being targeted here because of the crime that is engendered and the drugs."

But he cautions legislators to not make laws without funding the new mandates.

"Let’s add some people, maybe let’s train some people," Shumway said.

Meanwhile, he supports efforts by lawmakers to cut benefits state and local governments provide to illegal immigrants 18 years and older.

"Why do we as taxpayers have to pay for that?" Shumway asked, explaining that, "basically, you’re making adults be responsible for themselves."

But along with denying benefits, another piece of legislation, House Bill 437, sponsored by Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, would likely take benefits like business licenses, unemployment pay, food stamps and assistance with disability, higher education and housing from those who live in the state illegally.

Again, the Marsac Building opposes the bill.

"We do have a significant stake in this," Hill said. "We have a pretty significant service-worker population and an important ingredient of that population is, in particular, our Hispanic community."

HB437, which resembles controversial legislation passed in Colorado, singles out Mexicans, he added.

Elected officials in ski towns like Vail and Aspen want the law overturned, Hill said.

"It’s created a lot of difficulties for those cities," he said. "A lot of us depend upon a service population and this doesn’t help facilitate a very service-oriented population."

Because the bill was introduced so late, Hill expects HB437 to fail.

"If Utah’s wise, we would wait to see how things turn out [in Colorado] because there are a lot of unintended consequences to this," he said.

As House members this week debated HB105, HB437 awaited a hearing before a standing committee.


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