HB 497: The long arm of the law overstretched


The Salt Lake City Police Chief spoke to a group of students at the University of Utah about topics ranging from gangs to his stance on HB 497, a harsh anti-immigration bill he views as ripe for encouraging the practice of racial profiling.

Chris Burbank, 46, has been a vocal opponent of Utah’s house bill since the Legislature passed it in 2011. On the same day that he spoke at the U, The Salt Lake Tribune published an op-ed piece written by Burbank titled, “‘Papers-please’ law would harm all Utahns.

“I don’t believe officers should be cross-deputized [as immigration agents],” Burbank said. “It’s not our role.”

HB497 hasn’t yet gone into effect because its constitutionality has been challenged by the United States. The measure essentially allows local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of any individual they deem to be “reasonably suspicious.”

The broad language in the bill has been the source of concerns from Burbank and the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A pamphlet distributed by the ACLU of Utah called FAQ 497 reads:

How does HB 497 cause racial profiling?

The “reasonable suspicion” language of the law will allow and invite law officers to second-guess a person’s immigration status based on stereotypes, i.e., race, ethnicity, or accent. Demanding “papers” based on a person’s appearance is not “reasonable” and is not constitutional.

The law forces officers to push bias into their work, Burbank said.

During his presentation at the U, Burbank used students from the audience to illustrate how laws like HB 497 could impact minorities.

Burbank’s lined up two Caucasians, an African-American, an Asian-American and a Mexican-American. He then asked the rest of the students who among the lineup were the most likely to be questioned about their nationality.

Before the audience could speak up, Burbank grabbed the Mexican-American and Asian-American students and asked them to prove they are citizens of the United States.

“I won’t allow my officers to be engaged in those kinds of behaviors. I don’t care what the laws are that they’re trying to put into place,” Burbank said.

His stance on immigration enforcement has ruffled more than a few feathers among lawmakers. Some have even gone so far as nicknaming Salt Lake City, “Sanctuary Burbank.”

“They’re wrong and inject bias into what we do. And so that’s why I stood up and said, ‘hey, not going to do it,’” Burbank said. “And I will continue to fight that fight.”

Peter Vu, a second generation Vietnamese-American born and raised in Orem, said that if such stringent immigration laws were to take effect in his home state, he worries his parents would be targeted by police officers.

“I mean, they’re naturalized citizens and everything. I don’t think they should have to go around carrying papers to prove that,” Vu said.

Vu, who worked at a grocery store in Salt Lake City that catered to the Asian community, said he thinks there are better ways to curb illegal immigration than what’s been proposed in HB 497.

At a bakery in Draper, Vu discussed the Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act with his co-worker, Joe Fleming. Fleming is a transplant from Arizona, a state that passed the equally controversial SB 1070 in 2010. Utah, in fact, modeled its legislation after the Arizona statute.

Fleming’s father is Caucasian and his mother is of Mexican descent. While he worries about his mother being racially profiled by police in Arizona, Fleming also sees the need to bolster immigration enforcement.

“I understand where they’re coming from but what’s out there now probably isn’t the right way,” Fleming said.

In southern Arizona, where Fleming grew up on a large plot of land, he and his family had to deal with migrants using their property as a pit stop.

“We would always find trash and stuff at the spots where they camped,” Fleming said. “My sister was afraid to go out to the barn by herself at night.”

At the end of their conversation, both Fleming and Vu agreed that something has to be done to shore up the borders, but allowing police officers to ask people for proof of citizenship when there’s a “reasonable suspicion” is not the answer.

They both echoed Burbank’s sentiment.

“These are ridiculous laws and this is exactly what it is,” Burbank said.

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