This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
If allowed to go into effect, HB497, Utah's "papers please" law will cause irreparable harm to all Utahns. A hearing to determine whether the courts should block this law, which has been on hold since it was signed in May 2011, occurs Friday.
The stakes are high, especially for those engaged in the work of law enforcement. If the courts determine the law should be implemented, officers will experience a dramatic shift in how they engage in daily interactions.
As a police department dedicated to serving all members of our community equally without bias, we rely on the trust and cooperation of each individual and neighborhood. This is especially true of immigrant neighborhoods, where neighbors and even family members may not share the same immigration status.
In order to perform our job effectively, all people – including those who lack authorization to be in this country – should feel confident approaching police officers and coming forward as victims of or witnesses to crime without fear this interaction may lead to an investigation of their immigration status.
Unfortunately, because HB497 compels police officers to routinely ask questions about immigration status, the law will undoubtedly sever the bonds of trust that Salt Lake City Police officers share with our immigrant communities and that we have worked so hard to create.
Furthermore, HB497 diverts resources at a critical time when we can least afford it. In Alabama, the only state to have a "papers please" law in effect, police officers have wasted time and resources arresting German and Japanese auto executives, all because they didn't have proper papers on them during routine traffic stops.
These interactions may seem like mere annoyances to some, but this diversion of resources translates into a much higher public safety cost for all. The funds wasted to enforce laws like HB497 are much better spent on officers or programs intended to improve our city's safety.
Proponents of HB497 often state their support because the federal government has failed to fix our broken immigration system. The entire nation is experiencing the same frustration.
Salt Lake City has a diverse and rich immigrant community that has suffered because the federal government refuses to update antiquated and complicated immigration laws. However, immigration policy that changes every time an individual crosses a state line is simply not the answer.
Rather than expend money, time and resources crafting Utah-specific immigration code, we should expect our elected officials who represent us in Washington to put aside partisan rhetoric and update ineffective immigration laws. Friday, lawyers for and against HB497 will argue the law's constitutionality, and a Federal District Court will ultimately determine whether officers will be required to enforce it.
My hope is that the impracticality of the law and the negative impact it would have on our cities will not be forgotten by the courts, the legislators or the public. Ultimately, it is not in the best interest of our nation to compel local law enforcement officers to become de facto immigration agents through misguided laws like HB497.
Chris Burbank is Salt Lake City's chief of police.