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Lawmen don’t want immigration duties

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Law-enforcement officials in Park City and Summit County do not want the responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws, contemplated in federal legislation, saying that the agencies are not prepared for such duties.

The congressional legislation would give local agencies the authority to enforce the laws. Currently, the federal government handles immigration enforcement. Locally, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Park City Police Department are leery of the idea of having officers and deputies arresting people on immigration charges.

Rick Ryan, a lieutenant in the Police Department, said he worries about the manpower needed to enforce the laws. He said it would be a "fairly substantial impact" and a "big responsibility" on the Police Department to enforce the immigration laws.

Ryan said the Police Department now does not search for people who are in the U.S. illegally. If someone is stopped for a minor offense like a traffic violation, the police do not determine whether someone is a legal resident.

But if someone is arrested on a more serious crime, particularly a felony, and is found to be an illegal, Ryan said the Police Department tries to have immigration officials deport the person.

"If we were tasked with immigration enforcement, it would mean we are checking to see if people are documented," Ryan said. "If they weren’t, we would have to take them into custody."

Ryan worries that such a scenario would be divisive in a community where the police have strived for better relations with Latinos in the last decade.

"I think it would probably divide the community even more," he said.

He said he is unsure how police officers would react to the new duties but said that the officers would perform their jobs regardless of their views about immigration.

He said he does not expect the police to crack down if the legislation becomes a law.

"We wouldn’t say, jeez, the law passed, let’s round them up and see who’s legal," Ryan said.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Dave Edmunds, a Republican, largely agrees that immigration enforcement is not an appropriate responsibility for local agencies.

"We have a lot on our plate currently," Edmunds said, adding, "Currently, I don’t have the staff to go after that . . . I certainly don’t have the manpower nor do we have the expertise."

Edmunds said he sees immigration enforcement as a federal responsibility, does not want that duty transferred and said, if it is, the local agencies would require lots of federal funding. He acknowledged, though, that, if the legislation passes, the local agencies would have an "obligation to at least attempt to enforce it."

Like Ryan, Edmunds is concerned about the effect on law enforcement-Latino relations, saying that a new requirement would "strain" the relationship.

Mayor Dana Williams last week said in a Park City Council meeting that having police officers enforce the laws would tear Park City apart but he did not discuss the legislation in detail.


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