Lawmen pan immigration measure
If legislators expect local cops to enforce immigration laws they better pony up, lawmen in Summit County say.
Those and other issues will come up at a legislative immigration interim committee meeting at Ecker Hill International Middle School Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss SB 81, which is slated to take effect July 2009
A law takes effect next year that requires police officers and deputies take illegal immigrants off the street. But state lawmakers did not consult many in law enforcement before Senate Bill 81 passed and the bill was signed this year by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
"There are going to be some fights about that I would imagine," said Josh Wall, a spokesman for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. "We’re law enforcement officers and we want to enforce the laws, however, you need to have resources and laws that are enforceable too."
Lawmakers modeled SB 81 after an immigration measure in Oklahoma that is one of the nation’s toughest, Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter said.
"[SB 81] is very broad in its scope, which creates problems because it doesn’t deal with significant issues," Carpenter said.
Unemployment in Park City is less than three percent but immigrants may comprise 30 percent of the population, Carpenter said.
"A lot of times the federal agenda tries to drive the cart for local government and I think that’s a tough thing," Carpenter said, adding that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement has duties to enforce immigration laws. "Senate Bill 81 has some real holes in it. It would potentially place responsibility of immigration on local law enforcement, which we don’t have the resources or manpower to enforce."
Tourism, construction and agriculture are industries in Utah that demand the most immigrant labor, explained Democratic state Sen. Ross Romero, who serves on the state’s interim immigration committee.
"I understand how vital the undocumented community and all labor is in the tourism industry," Romero said. "We have to be able to make sure that the workers are available year after year either on a seasonal or permanent basis for our tourism industry and our local economy."
But immigration laws are the purview of the federal government, he said.
"Some of what we are able to do and not do is limited by the resources the federal government provides us as a state," Romero said.
Today deputies in Summit County regularly detain illegal immigrants wanted for reentering the United States after being deported.
"It’s an order from the judge to hook them and it’s not any choice that we have or any decision that we get to make," said Wall, the spokesman at the Sheriff’s Office. "If you show back up, we’re ordered by a federal judge to pick you up."
Police also do not track immigrants who are not wanted for illegal reentry, confirmed Carpenter, the chief in Park City.
"Immigration needs more focused control at the borders and not place burdens on local law enforcement," Carpenter said.
Detaining lots of illegal immigrants would swamp the jail, Wall said.
"If you go and start hooking all of the illegal immigrants, where are you going to put the criminals? I could see that as being a real problem because you could find more illegal immigrants in an afternoon than we could house ever," Wall said.
Carpenter said he doesn’t "think any of the jails are ready for it."
"What we’re looking for are violent offenders," Carpenter said. "My job is to look out for the community."
Meanwhile, SB 81 could also require public employers register to use a system that verifies the work status of new employees. The bill also could require governmental entities to verify the immigration status of people who apply for state or local benefits.
Passage of the bill could mean the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission would not be able to issue liquor licenses to illegal immigrants and could make it a class A misdemeanor to transport or shelter illegal immigrants in Utah.
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