SALT LAKE CITY — A Pennsylvania congressman has proposed legislation to cut the federal purse strings to more than 100 cities, including Salt Lake City, which he contends are refusing to enforce federal immigration laws.
But Salt Lake leaders aren't flinching.
Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican, says the so-called “sanctuary cities” are adding to the nation’s immigration problems, and wants to withhold all federal funding until they fall in line.
“Now we have mayors who are providing safe havens for (illegal immigrants) so they cannot get caught,” Barletta said Wednesday. “That’s aiding and abetting and that’s a crime in itself.”
Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank disagrees with the “sanctuary label” as well as the legislation.
“Are you qualifying a city as a sanctuary city as a city that cares for the civil rights of all individuals and protects those rights?” Burbank asked.
Burbank said Salt Lake City deports more criminal illegal immigrants than any other agency in Utah, but it’s not the role of police to actively look into the immigration status of law-abiding residents.
“As long as we narrowly focus, as we always have in the past and should continue to in the future, on criminal activity, then I’m fine,” Burbank said, “Everyone else in the state falls far below the standard that Salt Lake City P.D. has set as far as deporting criminals.”
Burbank also raised the concern of placing civil law above criminal law as an enforcement priority.
“There’s no congressional act to make us enforce rape or homicide or robbery charges against anybody, but in fact we’re going to go to all this effort and say the most important thing for a police agency in this country to do is enforce civil law,” Burbank said. “We’re running far astray from what the mission of local police officers is.”
Barletta and his office came up with the number of “more than 100 sanctuary cities” by referencing several online compilations. Staffers said the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC had the most complete list. That list names Salt Lake City and Provo, though Provo has the footnote that city leaders contacted the PAC to say “it has no desire to be a sanctuary for illegal aliens.” As of last August, the proprietors of the site noted they were trying to verify that claim.
Barletta has asked the Congressional Research Service to compile its own list for the purposes of his bill. He also formed a new immigration reform caucus last week, featuring only congressional freshmen.
“Illegal immigration is one of the many problems that we came to Washington — at least I did — to fix,” Barletta said. “Just enforce the laws we have and I think we’ll see this problem diminish.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was unavailable Wednesday, and a staffer said the office had no comment.
On Tuesday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order halting enforcement of a new immigration law that Utah legislators passed this year. The law would require law enforcement to ask the legal status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors and those booked into jail on class B and class C misdemeanors.
Burbank expressed concerns about that measure.
“There’s no support system or no resources in order to enable local law enforcement to conduct that mission,” Burbank said. “Plus, I think there’s been a tremendous lack of evaluation into whether or not we should conduct this type of effort.”
Barletta raised his own issues with Utah’s and Arizona’s immigration laws.
“There needs to be a uniform approach to how we’re dealing with this,” Barletta said. “The fact that states like Utah and Arizona and so many others are taking action is because of the federal government not doing its job. Once the federal government does that and enforces the laws we want — I believe the American people want enforcement, not reform — and just enforce the laws that we have, I think we’ll see this problem diminish. We’ll see attrition through enforcement of the laws we already have.”