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Immigration law has Utah church leaders concerned



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Concerns over a new immigration law soon to take effect are spilling into Utah churches. Catholic leaders say both illegal and legal Latino churchgoers are so concerned, they are considering moving out of the state.

Last year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 81 in an effort to get tough on illegal immigrants. The law goes into effect July 1. Father Martin Diaz of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Midvale says some Latino families are moving out of state; others are living in fear.

Father Martin Diaz, of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Midvale
Father Martin Diaz, of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Midvale

"[There are] a lot of questions: What does it mean? When is it going into effect? Do we need to be afraid?" Father Diaz said. "The perception is that a traffic stop could lead to deportation."

As it's written, Senate Bill 81 will make it difficult for illegal immigrants to get a job or utilize government services, and local police are supposed to help enforce it.

Last year, lawmakers passed the bill under public pressure, but few praised it as a concrete solution. "I supported Senate Bill 81 because something needed to be done. Am I happy with that? Not exactly," said Former House Speaker Greg Curtis in March of 2008.

Even the Salt Lake Police Department says local agencies can't solve the problem.

"Everyone is entitled to access to law enforcement and to have the peace of mind in doing so," said Salt Lake police Detective Dennis McGowan. "[Senate] Bill 81 implies a form of racial profiling that's in sharp contrast to the basic principles, beliefs and core values of the Salt Lake City Police Department, and therefore we will not participate."

That's welcome news for Father Diaz, who says he and other church leaders are trying to comfort and educate churchgoers who think they have nowhere to turn for help. "We're talking about law-abiding citizens. These are the people who pay their taxes, go to work, come to church," he said.

Other law enforcement agencies have also come out against Senate Bill 81.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City says they will be posting information about the law on their Web site, www.dioslc.org.

E-mail: wjohnson@ksl.com

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Whit Johnson

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