UHP boss: Troopers won't be immigration cops

Legislation » Director said the patrol doesn't have enough resources to enforce immigration laws.
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In what might be the most symbolic setback yet for the state's new immigration law, the director of the Utah Highway Patrol says troopers will not be certified as immigration agents.

"We are concerned about traffic safety and also ensuring that all people have a safe and secure environment in Utah," Utah Department of Public Safety Director Lance Davenport said Wednesday at a Latino town hall meeting here. "And that includes you."

Davenport's announcement means the state's two largest police agencies -- UHP and the Salt Lake City Police Department -- will not enforce immigration laws.

The third biggest -- the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office -- will enforce immigration laws only against inmates booked into its jail.

Davenport, whose job includes oversight of UHP, said the patrol does not have enough money and personnel to begin enforcing immigration laws. State budget cuts have already forced UHP to reduce the number of troopers, Davenport said.

"If [legislators] want us to do that, what we need is the resources," Davenport said.

A bill passed last year by the state Legislature, SB81, will go into effect on July 1, giving police agencies the option of enforcing federal immigration laws. Davenport's announcement puts UHP on a growing list of police agencies declining to have their officers enforce immigration laws.

But unlike local police departments, UHP's budget is set by the Legislature, whose conservative members have already criticized the Salt Lake City Police Department's refusal to enforce immigration laws.

Some local police departments have worried undocumented immigrants will be afraid to call police for help if the officers can arrest them for an immigration violation. Davenport said that was only a minor concern for UHP, whose mission is different than city police or county sheriffs.

SB81 also requires jails make a reasonable effort to determine the immigration status of inmates. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder praised that aspect of the law.

"It should not matter if a bad man is Hispanic, Chinese or Italian," Winder told the few hundred people gathered at a Latino mall. "If you commit the crime you will go to jail. And under SB81 the bad man will be deported."

As for whether deputies and detectives on the street will enforce immigration laws, Winder said: "We're not going to do something that the law does not require us to do."

West Valley Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen also said his department will not become immigration enforcers.

"We want to build a relationship so when you're victims of crime, you come forward," Nielsen told the audience.