The Utah Minutemen gathered Monday at the-County Building in Salt Lake City to protest Mayor Ralph Becker's and Police Chief Chris Burbank's decision against cross-training city officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
While Utah Minuteman President Eli Cawley said 40 to 50 people were expected to show up; fewer than 20 held signs on the west side of Washington Square.
"In their arrogance and wrong-headed insistence on pandering to illegal aliens at the expense of the rule of law and the safety of our people, Becker and Burbank have chosen, by their refusal to enforce SB81, to protect lawbreakers instead of citizens," Cawley said in a news release.
While many other city police chiefs and the Utah Highway Patrol have said they also are opting out of the cross-deputization provision of SB81 -- Utah's immigration law set to take effect July 1 -- Cawley said his group has chosen to criticize Salt Lake City because of its symbolism.
"It's the center of our state, the capital city that was founded by Mormons when they came here," Cawley said. "But don't think that other cities are going to get off. We may not be a million-man organization, but we'll use what resources we have. Park city is almost as bad."
Becker, though, says such protests will not change his stance on having Salt Lake City police officers do the work of immigration agents.
"Our job is to protect the residents of our city and the federal immigration policy is severely broken," he said Monday from Austria. "Cross-training would add a tremendous burden on our police, who are not trained to enforce federal policy."
Becker and Burbank also have argued that having local officers enforce immigration law would deter victims and witnesses from reporting violent and other serious crimes.
Cawley says his group's movement is not racially motivated, but during the two-hour gathering, some protesters shouted at Latino construction workers at the Matheson Court House, telling them to go back to their home countries. Cawley told police to go arrest the workers because they were not legal. Police officers declined.
Cawley blamed lax immigration enforcement for creating the problem.
"Unfortunately, because of ... inaction that politicians are taking, the assumption I make is that when I see someone who is Hispanic, I assume they're illegal," Cawley said after the protest. "By and large, that sentiment is becoming increasingly widespread. It's extremely damaging to the fabric that binds our society together, and it's one of the fallouts that happens when the law is not enforced."
That feeling will only grow, Cawley said, by police agencies not enforcing immigration law.