"By placing federal detainers for civil [immigration] violations on the NCIC system," Burbank explained, "it further clutters the system and makes it impossible for officers to make those determinations [of whether a person is a wanted criminal] in the field and would result in criminals potentially going free."
Last June, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed an immigration bill which has not come to a vote in the House. Republicans there have pushed the SAFE Act as an alternative that focuses more on enforcement.
Burbank and other police chiefs said the SAFE Act pushes police to enforce immigration, which would destroy trust with immigrant communities needed to catch criminals and lead to racial profiling.
"There is no way we can do immigration enforcement without interjecting bias," he said. "No one is going to ask me as a white male in Salt Lake City, 'Am I documented, and do I have the proper paperwork to show it?' But individuals who encounter anyone of color who looks differently, who acts or speaks differently, is going to be asked."
He added, "That is not the purpose of local law enforcement. It should be our goal always to provide equal access and protection under the law and to not alienate any segment of society."
Burbank said even when state legislation has merely been debated about requiring police to enforce immigration, departments nationwide have seen "it has caused community members not to trust the police," and Latinos are less likely to report crime.
Burbank noted that about 25 percent of Salt Lake City's population is Latino, and many of the schools in the city are 50 percent or more Latino. "Why would I, as a police chief, ever want to alienate such a large segment of my society by engaging in civil enforcement actions that interject bias into our business?"
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which works to protect the rights of low-income immigrants, said on the conference call that the government shutdown shows "that bipartisanship is in short supply," but added that "we must fix our broken immigration system."
She said the SAFE Act "is a misnomer because it would actually make our communities unsafe … because immigrants will be less likely to come forward as a victim or a witness to a crime should this bill become law."