Latino leader says new immigration law led to racial-profiling incident

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Leaders of the Latino community held an emergency meeting Thursday. Many immigrants are afraid of what the new law, formerly Senate Bill 81, means for law enforcement and them during a routine traffic stop.

Now Hispanic community leader Tony Yapias says Utah has it's first case of racial profiling thanks to enforcement of the new law.

Yapias says an officer in Utah County went too far Thursday morning when he stopped a mother and son near Benjamin because they were driving with their lights on high-beam.

The officer then asked about their legal status and put them in the Utah County Jail on what's called an "INS" hold.

"They better be doing that to every single person regardless of their color of skin or what they look like, because to only arrest people who look brown and Latino, I mean, that is racial profiling," Yapias said.

Latino leader says new immigration law led to racial-profiling incident

In the last couple of days, community leaders and immigration attorneys have received hundreds of calls from immigrants concerned about this very issue. At Thursday's meeting, many came to get their questions answered.

"This is the Constitution of the United States, in English and in Spanish. Everybody has the right to remain silent. You never have to give information that can or will be used against you," immigration attorney Mark Alvarez told the group.

Right now, only officers in Weber and Washington counties have fulfilled federal requirements to handle illegal immigrants if they are arrested.

"In the state of Utah, we allow them to have a driver privilege card, it's mandatory to have insurance and they have proper registration. So, if they are complying with, if it's a traffic violation, the most that they should get is a traffic ticket," Yapias said.

Hesays they'll be ready legally for rogue police officers. "If there's an overzealous police officer out there who thinks he's the law and he's going to go enforce the law and question someone's legal status, we have some safety measures for that where the community can report these police officers," Yapias said.

Those at the gathering were told again and again: As long as they obey the law, they have nothing to worry about.

"They are not actively on the streets looking for people who violate immigration laws, so a subject is only questioned, as to their immigration status, after having been arrested for a state violation," explained Steven Branch, ICE field office director.

Those words brought relief to some, but most are confused about how individual police officers will treat them. Many who have lived and worked in Utah for at least 15 years are still hoping to reach legal status.

"I think this is the best country in the world; but like I said before, they need to work better, they need to think about humans, about human rights," Arsenio Gonzales said.

The majority of immigrants remain concerned about how police officers will handle them as individuals.


Story compiled with contributions from Carole Mikita and Andrew Adams.

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