A House bill proposes that the UHP, who reports to DPS, gets an MOU with the DHS so it can function like ICE who was once the INS.
In other words, Utah law enforcement may soon be combining forces with the Department of Homeland Security to step up immigration enforcement.
The bill would allow trained law enforcement officers to act as immigration officers, should they be confronted by a situation involving federal immigration issues. The bill was approved by a House committee Wednesday in a 6-3 vote. It now moves to the House floor.
Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, the sponsor of House Bill 105, says that the bill would allow officers to be spread throughout the state who have the training on how to identify and handle illegal immigrants when they see them.
Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, is concerned that having law enforcement able to act as federal immigration officers would scare people out of reporting other crimes such as battery or domestic violence. This bill could have an negative effect, says Seelig, not only on victims, but also on witnesses to crimes.
Also opposed to the bill is Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City. Litvak said the effect of cross-deputizing local law enforcement officers will be to "create pockets of criminal activity, and create vulnerable individuals in families."
He also argued that this bill will breed further distrust of law enforcement in not only the immigrant community, but in the minority community as well. Those issues, Litvak said, will have an effect on the public safety of everyone.
Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Scott Duncan told the House committee that most local law enforcement agencies are opposed to the bill.
Troopers and local officers will have the choice of whether they want to participate in the training program under the bill. If they do participate, they will receive a five-week training program. Duncan testified that implementation of this program in Alabama has resulted in more than 50 officers being trained, yielding only several arrests of illegal immigrants on false identification charges.
This keystone of HB 105 would be the Utah Department of Public Safety obtaining a memo of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security. According to Donnelson, this would open up the doors for federal training, paid for with federal dollars, and ease the process of local law enforcement.
The bill would not, Donnelson said, require officers to change their normal duties in any way. It would instead only empower them to act when the situation arises, without having to wait a few days for Immigration and Control Enforcement to respond.
Duncan said the bill doesn't create "a proactive program." Highway Patrol Troopers, he says, would not be out proactively looking for illegal immigrants. Duncan said troopers will still primarily be concerned with doing their job.
"If they see a drunk in front of them and they also suspect that another car in front of them has some illegals in it, you take the drunk," he said.
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