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Tribune Editorial: Utah police chiefs right to avoid immigration wars

Published March 2, 2017 12:23 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It doesn't really matter whether the fear is fully justified, because the fear is very real.

And you don't have to be one of those who lives under the threat that you or someone you love could at any moment be seized, jailed and deported, perhaps on the flimsiest of pretenses, in order for the growing terror among millions of immigrants to harm you and your community.

Among those most troubled by the prospect of federal sweeps aimed at deporting millions of undocumented immigrants are local police officers who, even if they aren't participating in the operations, will have to live with the collateral damage.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown is allied with the leaders of local law enforcement agencies across the nation who are justly worried about the prospect of stepped-up federal efforts to round up those who are here without permission, even those who have committed no serious or violent crime, and send them back to countries they may not have seen in decades.

Such operations, even when local officers have no role in them, cast a shadow over their day-to-day efforts to responsibly police their communities.

As the chief explained to The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board the other day, his officers seek to arrest people who have committed real crimes. The immigration status of those they arrest, ticket, question or take statements from is of no interest to them.

And it has to be that way because, if it isn't, if the immigrant community comes to view the local cops as the ones who will deport them, then the police department's ability to do its job is horribly compromised. Too many people won't report crimes, won't testify, won't turn in people they know to be criminals. Not if every person with a badge poses an existential threat to life as they, and their families, know it.

And that would make life in a city more dangerous for everyone — immigrant, legal resident, citizen and police officer.

And it's not just liberal Salt Lake City where the police feel this way. Provo Police Chief John King recently issued a memo reminding officers that immigration enforcement is not in their portfolio, stressing the need for his department to keep the trust of all of his city's residents.

It makes no more sense for a city's police to take on the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents than it would for the local cops to extend the reach of IRS auditors. It's not their job.

And, if anyone tried to make it their job, they'd have no time — or money, or jail space — to do anything else. Which would be a favor to all the real criminals out there, of whatever immigration status, making it easier for them to victimize people in every community.

"Criminal activity thrives on the weak and the scared and the vulnerable," Brown said.

And there will be a lot more of all that, endangering all of us, if Brown and other police chiefs in Utah and across the country can't reach their immigrant communities with the message that local law enforcement agencies aren't out to deport anyone.

Which is exactly how it should be.






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