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Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank is joining national defenders of President Barack Obama's executive orders that would prevent deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.
"I stand with police chiefs throughout the nation who applaud the president and say, yes, this is a fantastic first step," Burbank said in a teleconference Thursday sponsored by the National Immigration Law Center.
Burbank also signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief defending Obama that was filed this week by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and 27 chiefs and sheriffs from such places as Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Washington, D.C.
That comes as Utah and Attorney General Sean Reyes are among the 25 states that sued in federal court in Texas arguing that Obama's actions are unconstitutional because they bypassed Congress. They are demanding a preliminary injunction, which would put Obama's action on hold until the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.
A federal judge in South Texas on Thursday questioned lawyers representing both sides but gave no indication on how he would rule. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said he would not issue a ruling on the injunction request before Jan. 30.
Also, Utah's all-GOP U.S. House delegation voted Wednesday to block funding to implement Obama's orders in a bill that now goes to the Senate but faces an almost-sure presidential veto if it passes.
Burbank, representing big-city chiefs, told national reporters Thursday that Obama's orders will improve public safety by allowing many undocumented immigrants to emerge from the shadows and report crime without fear of deportation.
"When criminals know that their victims are afraid or are unwilling to cooperate with the police, then they enjoy that. And, in fact, crime thrives," Burbank said.
He added that Obama's orders "will create an avenue for these good, hard workers who are already contributing to the well-being of our community to do so outside the shadows."
Burbank said police depend on the trust of the community to find criminals and to help prevent crime and the executive orders can help police become a closer part of immigrant communities without creating fear.
"If we stand apart from our community as opposed to being a part of our community," it fuels "mistrust, and we see that playing out time and time again now in our nation," Burbank said.
"I cannot express how important it is to move forward on this issue in light of the microscope that has appeared on law enforcement because of our response to force," he added.
"We need now more than ever to be legitimate in the eyes of our community, and that is all community members, regardless of their race or nationality or what language they speak."
Reyes, when he joined the lawsuit against the executive orders, said it is not about immigration policy. "This process is what is being challenged. The process is not legal. Regardless of how you feel about the policy, it does not justify implementation in an unconstitutional manner."
Obama's orders would expand deferred deportation for parents of U.S. citizens, and for immigrants brought as young children. It would affect an estimated 5 million immigrants.
A study by the Migration Policy Institute found a higher percentage of undocumented immigrants in Utah could benefit from the presidential order than in any other state. It estimated that 55 percent of Utah's undocumented population could be shielded from deportation, or about 48,000 people.