This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Milton Ivan Salazar-Gomez has lived in Utah since his parents brought him here when he was 10 months old. His two children are U.S. citizens. And he's afraid he'll be busted by a police officer who won't know the feds have cleared him, not to be a citizen, but to be here legally. For now.
Salazar-Gomez is one of five individual plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this week to stop a new law from forcing police officers to take on a job that rightly belongs to federal agents spotting and busting people in the country illegally.
Not surprisingly, such police action almost undoubtedly will target people of color, particularly those with a Spanish accent. This isn't about Scandinavians. It's about the people who've come here to work, to escape the smothering poverty and savage violence in places like Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The lawsuit also contends, correctly, that only the U.S. government has authority over immigration issues. Police executives such as Salt Lake City's Chief Chris Burbank and others have inveighed against such measures, which have cropped up in several other states.
One executive told me last summer that if immigrants can't trust cops, they won't identify those who commit crimes against them.
It's an easy formula: Someone commits a crime. Someone tells the cops who did it. Cops gather proof. Cops arrest. Take out that second step, and policing will be less effective, particularly in immigrant communities. Too much crime already goes unreported, and sadly, a lot of that involves sexual violence against young women and girls. Cops don't like that, the executive noted.
And consider the numbers. About 110,000 undocumented immigrants live in a state with 2.77 million people making them just 4 percent of the total. I know there are criminal elements and unsavory behavior among them just like those among the rest of us.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center, among other organizations and individuals, claims the law violates state and federal constitutions, which it does.
The law also requires that noncitizens carry papers that prove a presumption of lawful presence. They include valid Utah driver licenses or identification cards; proof of membership in an American Indian tribe; and ID that includes a photo or biometric identifier of the holder.
That's a lot of paper to carry around, or what the Utah ACLU's Karen McCreary calls the ominous "show me your papers" tactic. Moreover, she says, it gives officers leeway to stop a person for anything "from littering to felonies."
Given that the Utah and U.S. constitutions give responsibility and authority for immigration law to the federal government, you might ask, what's going wrong in Washington, D.C.? And where is the Utah delegation on the issue?
Sen. Mike Lee wants to repeal the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to people born in the United States. Sen. Orrin Hatch has again filed a bill he says would, among other things, curb identity theft, stop "the abuse by this administration from granting mass parole or deferral to illegal aliens," and track the flow of federal and state welfare to "illegal aliens."
Rep. Rob Bishop wants to ease environmental restrictions on border security. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is co-sponsor of a measure that would deny Social Security benefits to undocumented immigrants.
According to http://www.thomas.gov, dozens of immigration bills have been filed this year. President Barack Obama wants at least a start on a palatable solution this year.
We'll have to see how that works out; not much has recently.
We absolutely need immigration reform. It must be fair, reasonable and federal. We don't need another court fight that will cost Utah taxpayers a lot of money as the state tries to defend an indefensible law.
We do need, as the Utah Compact says, humane policy that respects those who come here in good will to find a future. People like Salazar-Gomez, who's working through the proper channels to stay here, his lifelong home.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.