Immigration debate frequently hits home in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Support for the kind of immigration law just enacted by Arizona is high across the country. The possibility that Utah could adopt a similar law is very real.

This debate that's far from over, and views on the topic continue to be strongly divided.


Theresa Martinez is an associate professor at the University of Utah. "It's really frightening stuff that's happening in Arizona," she said.

If a law similar to Arizona's passed in Utah, Martinez says she could be questioned about her status for any number of reasons, like her last name and her appearance.

Racial profiling is not allowed under the law, but Martinez says it leaves law enforcement no choice -- and she says the future would be dramatically different for not only illegal immigrants, but U.S. citizens as well.

"I see tons of my students who are not undocumented being pulled over. I see tons of community members who appear to be ‘driving while brown.' It's crazy," she said. "That's why I think forward-thinking law enforcement, like Chief Burbank and others, are saying we don't support this kind of law."

Salt Lake City's chief of police, Chris Burbank, has repeatedly said he believes Arizona's law was a huge mistake. And with the reality that a similar law could be passed here, Burbank headed to Washington, D.C., along with nine other chiefs of police from across the country to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.


Tensions in Utah's capital city are running high. At the popular music venue The Depot, Hispanic fans were denied access to a concert because they tried to use Utah Driver's Privilege cards as IDs, rather than green cards or passports.

The club claims they were following the law, but the fans think it was something more. So what is to be done about illegal immigration in Utah? It's no doubt a complex issue.

But one, Martinez says, Utah should deal with differently than it was by our neighbors to the south.

"We need to start thinking reasonably," she said.

Despite those arguments and more, many believe Arizona's immigration law commands the approval of a large majority of American citizens. It's a battle sure to continue.

Life for immigrants in Utah received national attention Wednesday. As part of its series "A Nation Divided," NBC Nightly News examined Utahns affected by immigration. It featured community centers that offer English classes, community leaders who have schools with a significant Latino presence and a Utah woman whose husband and two stepchildren are undocumented.

You can watch NBC's report by CLICKING HERE.


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Jennifer Stagg


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