Standing against Utah’s conservativism, a few fight against HB 497


In 2011, the Utah Legislature passed a controversial bill pertaining to illegal immigration throughout the state.  In subsequent months, outcry from the Latino community and leaders around Salt Lake City, led to a court challenge against House Bill 497.

HB 497, would allow police officers to check the immigration status of most individuals they encounter, making it necessary for those of Latino background to carry their documents with them wherever they go.

And in May 2011, just after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 497, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Utah. That action suspended the bill, and Judge Clark Waddoups of U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, recently postponed the case, citing that he will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a similar bill from Arizona.

While the courts will ultimately decide the fate of HB 497, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and other opponents have urged the courts to consider the problems a bill of this nature could create for officers.

“I should not take into account who [citizens] they are, what language they speak, the color of their skin, where they might be from, and all those other things.” Burbank said.  “We all have these biases built into us. But does that hold true? Absolutely not.  And if officers start using that [biases] as a basis to make enforcement decisions, that is wrong.”

Burbank also let his thoughts be known in a Feb. 16th op-ed column in The Salt Lake Tribune, the day before Waddoups moved to suspend the bill.  Headlined “ ‘Papers-please’ law would harm all Utahns,” Burbank pleaded for the judicial system to block HB 497.

As Burbank—2011 recipient of the Tribune’s “Person on the Year” honor, spoke the same day his column was printed, he reiterated the overriding sentiments toward  the issue. And more specifically, he addressed the influence HB 497 would have on the growing Latino community in the state of Utah.

“In Salt Lake City, last year’s census had 22.5 percent of the population being documented as being Hispanic or Latino,” Burbank said. “The school census, when you look at the enrolled children in school, that number is about 31 percent of the population.  And to alienate one-third of the population is ridiculous.”

Passing by 59-15 in the Utah House and 22-5 in the Utah Senate it was clear that lawmakers overwhelmingly supported HB 497. However– like Burbank–not all Utah leaders were on board with the controversial bill.  Rep. David Litvack D-Salt Lake City, agrees that HB 497 would only create unnecessary issues for police officers and citizens alike.

“I think it does a disservice to the entire community,” Litvack said. “You can’t resolve immigration issues through enforcement only, it’s misleading.  And as far as law enforcement, as well as the immigrant community, it puts them in a very compromising position. Law enforcement relies on a good relationship with the entire community, including the undocumented community.”

Being one of the 15 House opponents to the bill last legislative session, Litvack adamantly defended his decision to vote against a bill that many supported.

“My big concern for witnesses of crime, is how willing they will be cooperate, to speak with law enforcement if their big fear is that they’re going to be arrested or deported,” Litvack said.

And while HB 497 has clearly been met with resistance from some, in the end, the law must really be about guaranteeing the safety and rights for all those who live in the state of Utah, Burbank wrote in his guest column.

“In order to perform our job effectively, all people – including those who lack authorization to be in this country – should feel confident approaching police officers and coming forward as victims of or witnesses to crime without fear this interaction may lead to an investigation of their immigration status.”

Salt Lake City police chief, Utah representatives combat new immigration laws


What would you say if you saw the police carting off your neighbor? His only crime is that he hasn’t waded through the years of paperwork and processing in order to obtain legal citizenship in the U.S. What about a friend who gets pulled over and asked for immigration papers or proof of citizenship solely because of her skin color? Would you step up and say something then? Or by then would it already be too late?

These are the questions Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank is asking, as he fires yet another salvo in the ever increasing debate over illegal immigration in the state of Utah.

Burbank, whose infamously lenient take on illegal immigration has earned him the nickname “Sanctuary Burbank,” from opponents, said that the current proposed “solutions” for illegal immigration in Utah represent a serious threat to the civil liberties of U.S. citizens and could actually increase the crime rate of Utah should they be enacted.

“These are ridiculous laws,” Burbank said of proposed immigration laws similar to those passed in Arizona.

Arizona’s SB 1070 require police officers to actively check immigration status during legal stops, and require all aliens, legal or otherwise, to carry proper documentation of their citizenship at all times. Failure to do so could result in a misdemeanor charge.

“Any time we as a society can say one segment of our population—because of who they are, what they look like, the language they speak—is more engaged in criminal behavior [as a result]. Well that’s as racist and biased as anything I’ve ever heard,” Burbank said.

Burbank said that he believes by creating laws that target illegal immigrants, Utah will create significant problems for the community on two levels—crime increase, and the all too slippery slope of racial profiling.

“You actually increase crime when you enforce these kinds of laws,” Burbank said.

He cited the formation of the Italian Mafia as an example of racially specific profiling leading to increased crime, saying that due to the shunning of the Italian people on the East Coast, they began to look to each other for support and eventually turned to crime as an alternative to pursuing legal jobs outside of their own community.

One of Burbank’s main concerns with the proposed laws, is that the threatened deportation of illegal immigrants increases the likelihood those immigrants won’t feel comfortable reporting crimes to the police for fear of calling deportation down on themselves.

“When we have a segment of society that turns their back or says ‘We’re not going to interact with the police,’” Burbank said. “Well, the criminal element thrives.”

The other great threat Burbank believes these laws represent is that of selective racial profiling.

“We are a very effective form of oppression,” Burbank said of the dangers associated with racial profiling. “Those things [profiling] are wrong and it’s my job to prevent that from happening in my profession. I will not allow my officers to be involved in that behavior.”

Burbank isn’t the only one interested in seeing Utah’s illegal immigration status solved through non-aggressive legislation. State Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, also stated concerns similar to Burbank’s regarding an increase in crime, should these laws be enacted.

“I think that [Burbank’s view] is probably true,” Edwards said. “I’ve talked to people in law enforcement who believe that it [immigration laws] would drive people who might report crime underground.”

Not only did Edwards express concerns regarding a possible increase in crime, but also the potentially disastrous effect such laws could have on Utah’s economy, citing the numerous illegal immigrants who help maintain Utah’s farmland.

“They [immigration laws] in the end are not realistic because of the devastation to the economy and tearing families apart,” Edwards said. “If people are going to be here anyway, let’s help them to be responsible.”

Of course not everyone is satisfied with Utah’s current policies on illegal immigration such as HB116, which passed last year, allowing illegal immigrants who fulfill certain requirements to obtain jobs and in-state tuition at Utah’s public colleges and universities.

State Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, is particularly adamant about the problems that illegal immigration is causing for those waiting to immigrate to the U.S. legally.

“By us tolerating illegal immigration, we are hurting those who are waiting up to 20 years for legal immigration,” Herrod said. “Where is the compassion for those who are waiting in line? Nobody is talking about those individuals.”

Herrod, who has a number of legal immigrants in his family, including his wife, a native of Russia, supports the proposed laws that would crack down on illegal immigration. He believes that by acting as what he calls a “sanctuary state,” Utah is hurting legal immigrants as much as, if not more than, the illegals who come into the state.

“As a sanctuary state, what we’re saying is that we love illegal immigrants more than we do legal immigrants,” Herrod said. “That’s, to me, simply warped.”

With the gulf of opinion regarding illegal immigration widening with each new approach, there is at least one thing both sides of the issue agree on—obtaining legal citizenship should be easier.

“We ought to be about making the process of legal immigration easier,” Rep. Edwards said. “Right now it’s onerous, expensive, and time-consuming.”

In the end, it’s hard to say which side of the argument is correct, or if a proper solution can ever truly be enacted. According to Edwards, the problem can merely be managed and will ultimately be solved only if the government gets involved at a federal level.

“States are attempting to solve this in their own ways, but in the end it’s a federal problem,” Edwards said. “We can deal with people once they’re here in our state, but the issue of immigration is a federal one.”

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