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SNYDERVILLE, Summit — About 300 Summit County residents worried about immigration enforcement found reason to cheer at a meeting Thursday night when two top law enforcement officers vowed not to help with deportations.
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez and Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter told the crowded gathering at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Snyderville that their agencies would not enter into agreements that would “deputize” officers to carry out federal operations.
“I will not be doing that as a sheriff,” Martinez said to loud applause. “I have a responsibility to Summit County. This is a federal immigration issue and therefore I will not be participating in that (and be) deputized.”
Carpenter echoed a similar sentiment.
“Immigration is the responsibility of the federal government not local government,” Carpenter said. “Park City police will not participate … either.”
Martinez and Carpenter were referring to section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides that the federal government “may enter into a written agreement with a state (employee or agency) … in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States.”
Thursday's meeting was organized in response to four arrests made by Immigration Customs and Enforcement officers in Park City early on the morning of Feb. 17. The incident prompted a letter to residents from Martinez.
Latinos in Summit County are on edge, said May Payan, a Park City resident.
"Park City Hispanic people are hard-working people," Payan said. "They work hard to send money back home. ... So they want to be here in peace and not be harassed."
Representatives from the Consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City, the American Civil Liberties Union and Holy Cross Ministries were on hand to discuss issues of uncertainty arising from new measures undertaken by new President Donald Trump’s administration.
The Salt Lake City office for Immigration Customs and Enforcement was invited to put a representative on the panel, but ultimately declined, said moderator Beth Armstrong, who is executive director of the People's Health Clinic.
"That’s our empty chair, by the way," Armstrong told the audience. "Our ICE (representative) did not show up."
Carpenter got in touch with Robert Culley, the agency's new office director in Salt Lake City, to talk about the four arrests in Park City. Carpenter said he and other top officials with Park City police did not get word of the federal operation in advance of the arrests beind made, though dispatchers were made aware.
He wanted to ensure better communication with ICE in the future, he said, and was encouraged by the conversation.
"(Culley) assured me that that would be fixed," Carpenter said.
The police chief echoed assurances from Martinez over the weekend that the arrests in question were not considered to be a sweep or raid looking for undocumented immigrants. Rather, the agents were looking for "specified individuals" with felony criminal histories or who have re-entered the United States illegally after being deported before.
John Mejia, legal director American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, gave pointers on what rights people are entitled to when interacting with immigration enforcement officers.
He encouraged them to exercise their right to remain silent, to not sign any papers without fully understanding what they are agreeing to and to refuse to answer the door unless federal officers have a proper warrant.
Martinez urged residents to be cooperative with the sheriff's office rather than afraid of it. He asked them to understand the difference between ICE and local law enforcement.
"We’re not ICE. ... You might be a witness to a crime that we might need to have a conversation with you," he said.
Families with undocumented immigrants were also encouraged to not allow the fear of immigration enforcement to keep them away from medical appointments or to keep children out of school.
"I can tell you that we’re dealing with some fear — particularly the kids," said one school employee.
Martinez also asked anyone who is the victim of domestic violence or other abuse to contact police, even if they are afraid of contact with government officials because of their immigration status.
"As scared as they may be, and I completely understand that, I’d encourage them to reach out," he said.
Park City resident Bonnie Brown asked Martinez whether ICE detainer requests, which keep an undocumented suspect in custody for 48 hours, are legally binding for the sheriff's office.
"Why are you choosing to honor those, if they are just requests, and is it something you would consider changing your mind about?" Brown asked.
Martinez responded that he didn't' know whether his agency was required by law to abide ICE's detainer requests.
"I'd like to speak with my attorneys and see if that's something we can address," he said.
The sheriff stressed that all other factors that go into an inmate's bail situation would remain the same.
"I am not going to let anybody go, documented or undocumented, if they are a threat to society," he said, unless required to do so because of a bail or bond payment.
Martinez also received loud applause when he said he would not pursue a designation allowing the Summit County Jail to detain suspects in ICE cases on any long-term basis.
Some of residents' ideas did get pushback from police, including one woman's suggestion that a cellphone app alert, similar to the Amber Alert system, warn residents throughout the county whenever ICE agents are in the area.
"Why can’t we get ahead of them?" she asked.
Carpenter said such an idea was uncalled for because it could create "mass panic when it's not needed" due to "false rumors."
The prospect of deportation is one that terrifies undocumented immigrants, paralyzing the wider Latino community in Summit County, Payan said, adding that she was speaking from experience.
"It literally feels like your family member has died when they’re in Customs, when they are going to be deported," she said.