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Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police calls for Comprehensive immigration reform

July 06, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

Police officer

Photo by Marcos Vasconcelos


The Salt Lake Tribune featured yet another law enforcement voice calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The opinion piece, authored by Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police, Chris Burbank, criticizes Utah’s new restrictive immigration law SB 81 which took effect on July 1st. Among other requirements on everyone from employers to landlords, the new law deputizes local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. As Chief Burbank strongly notes, it is unfortunate that politicians too often neglect the local law enforcement perspective in choosing politics over policy:


Immigration issues instigate some of the most heated debate in the United States today. Unfortunately, this deliberation has yet to include the voice of law enforcement, whose job and mission are drastically impacted by immigration policy. As the Police Foundation report recommends, the federal government needs to pass comprehensive immigration reforms to truly fix the problem and relieve the burden on state and local police. They also need to involve the perspective of police in this upcoming debate.


Police officers know first hand that limited resources should not be diverted from the primary responsibility of providing protection. Public safety is best served when the community trusts and has confidence in its police department:


The essential duty of modern law enforcement is to protect the civil rights of individuals while providing for the safety of all members of the communities we serve, equally, without bias. Asking local police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws, as Utah's new law does, is contrary to our mission, marginalizes significant segments of the population, and complicates and ultimately harms effective community policing. We function best when we are part of, not apart from, the community.


Police officers should not engage in civil immigration enforcement. However, local law enforcement should diligently continue to arrest serious criminal offenders and, as appropriate, refer dangerous criminals to federal authorities. Civil immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and it is paramount to the well-being of our neighborhoods that the federal government maintains accountability.

        New immigration laws set dangerous precedent, July 2, 2009


The simple truth is that misguided and short-sighted local laws on immigration like SB 81 have not and will not realistically solve the issue or meaningfully impact the estimated 12 million undocumented people who now call America their home. Instead, gains that have been achieved on community policing practices are set back as local police officers are forced to serve the double, and at times, conflicting duty of enforcing immigration laws and serving and protecting the community. If victims and witnesses of crime do not trust their police department because of fear of deportation of themselves or their loved ones, public safety will ultimately suffer.

Comprehensive immigration reform is the only rational solution that can feasibly bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into our legal system. True reform is the only way to ensure that police departments can return to their true and clear mandate to focus their resources on protecting the communities that they serve.

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