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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Salt Lake City Police Department is emphatic -- it is opting out of Senate Bill 81, which cracks down further on illegal immigration. The bill's House sponsor says that's worthy of retribution.
Senate Bill 81 makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get a job and to utilize some government services. But the responsibility of enforcement falls on police.
Salt Lake City Police Department won't enforce SB 81 as written
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank's issue is what happens if his officers become immigration officers. He says his department has the right under the law to opt out. He said, "To say that there is going to be retribution for us exercising what is written in the law, is our ability not to participate in this. There is nothing that mandates us in this law to take this action."
Burbank says law forces officers to racially profile people, sponsor says that's not intent of lawBurbank said ultimately the disapproval of the law comes down to the fact that the law requires law enforcement to racially profile individual illegal or not. He says doing that goes too far.
"When you start wandering in to the area that law enforcement should take bias, racially motivated enforcement actions, there's 10 other places in the law that say we shouldn't do that. This one contradicts that. That's not right," Chief Burbank said.
I just think that is absolutely appalling that a police officer sworn to uphold the law, would make a statement on public television that they are not going to enforce the law because they don't like the law. -- Rep. Mike Noel
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, was the House sponsor of the bill. He said, "That is absolutely not the intent of the law at all. There is no profiling in the law, that's an individual decision by a law enforcement officer, but if a law enforcement officer engages with an individual, if there is an issue that involves a criminal action, then he has a responsibility to make sure that person is in fact an American citizen."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said local law enforcement has no duty to enforce SB 81
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff appears to be supporting the Salt Lake City Police Department in its right to back out of SB 81. On the Doug Wright Show Wednesday morning Shurtleff said, "First of all, this Senate Bill 81 is convoluted. There's a lot of misunderstanding. There's a lot of fear and misinformation, particularly among the immigrant community."
Shurtleff added, "Let me just make it clear. The only person that has kind of an overall responsibility to enforce SB 81 as a law, the entire law, is me. Now there are different provisions within SB 81 where there are different requirements, there are different opportunities and so to say that the Salt Lake PD is not going to enforce SB 81, that's a misstatement. There is not a duty of any local law enforcement agency to enforce SB 81."
Sponsor of SB 81 looking at ways to force police to enforce law
Rep. Noel said, "I just think that is absolutely appalling that a police officer sworn to uphold the law, would make a statement on public television that they are not going to enforce the law because they don't like the law."
When you start wondering in to the area that law enforcement should take bias, racially motivated enforcement actions, there's ten other places in the law that say we shouldn't do that. This one contradicts that. That's not right. -- Chief Burbank
He says he will look at ways to make police uphold the law.
"If they don't want to obey the law then I guess we're going to have to, in some way, have some retribution against them for not enforcing the law. So that would be my statement, and I would work hard to do that," he said.
He added, "I would say for my part, there are ways we can take action against the Salt Lake City Police Department. I was very instrumental in passing the bill for jail reimbursement, which meant $4 million to the Salt Lake City Police Department in jail reimbursement."
Rep. Noel says that action could come in the form of withholding jail reimbursement. During Wednesday morning's Doug Wright show, Chief Burbank expressed disbelief at that statement. He called the threat to withhold jail reimbursement funds "ironic." He said the Salt Lake City Police Department gets more criminals deported than perhaps the rest of the state combined.
Burbank also doesn't like the idea of turning officers into immigration agents because it'll keep people who need help from asking for it over fears of deportation.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon that said he expressed opposition to cross deputization of Salt Lake City police officers.
"Rep. Noel assures me that his intent is not to mandate Salt Lake City police officers enforce federal immigration law. (He) also reassured me that he does not intend to seek retribution against Salt Lake City for declining to deputize our law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration law," he said.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office plans to comply with law
A spokesman for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office says it will comply with the law, though one major challenge is that local law enforcement doesn't have access to the federal immigration database needed to confirm someone's status.
Other police agencies have come out against SB 81. Even some lawmakers acknowledge it's not the best solution. It goes into effect July 1.
Community activists cry foul
Community activist Tony Yapias said, "It makes us angry how our people are being racially profiled. I wish Rep. Noel for a day could be myself, so that he could be looked at in a different way, and walk in my shoes and see what people are really feeling."
He says a similar law in Oklahoma is stuck in the courts, and some groups are considering filing suit here.
Yapias says the very existence of Senate Bill 81 opens the door for possible abuse. He says the law is causing fear in the immigrant community. He says whether or not their fears are unfounded, the law has many people -- even crime victims -- reluctant to contact police.
Yapias says there are cases here and in other parts of the country where officers have acted as immigration agents, questioning a person's status on even minor traffic stops.
Police locally have consistently denied the claims. Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Don Hutson says from the sheriff's perspective, little will change under the new law. He says deputies will not act as immigration agents. Authorities already contact immigration officers if a person is arrested for a felony or a DUI.
Hutson says the real question will be with the immigration department, which will have to decide which people to keep incarcerated.
The bill's original sponsor, Bill Hickman, who's no longer in the Senate, told KSL Wednesday afternoon he doesn't have a problem if police agencies opt out of the voluntary part of the bill. But it's a different story if they refuse to uphold what is essentially state law regarding the harboring or transporting of illegal aliens.