Some local and state law enforcement officers could add the role of immigration agent to their job description under a measure to be considered by the 2007 Legislature.
Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, sponsor of HB105, envisions officers who are able to apprehend illegal immigrants during routine traffic stops.
"It's not head hunting," Donnelson said. "It's just an aid for officers when they are doing their routine duty."
The bill, one of several this session addressing illegal immigration, directs the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety to enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to allow some law officers to perform certain federal immigration functions in "investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States."
The bill has yet to receive a hearing, but it has already drawn the opposition of the state's attorney general. The Department of Public Safety has also raised questions about what the bill really means.
It doesn't specify what the wording of the state-federal agreement would be. Such "287(g)" agreements work in different ways, depending on a jurisdiction's needs, said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE reports the agreements have led to successful investigations, such as the arrest and conviction of 20 people in Florida, 18 of whom were undocumented, attempting to purchase fraudulently obtained state drivers' licenses.
"It allows ICE to focus on more complex investigations," Haley said. "It's a win-win for everyone. It helps us and it helps the local jurisdictions. It's a great thing for public safety."
However, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said that as the state's chief law enforcement officer he strongly opposes the bill, which he sees as a detriment to public safety.
"The bottom line is, we have a job to do here," Shurtleff said. "Every moment we spend hauling in an illegal immigrant pulls us away from doing other things to keep the streets safe."
Shurtleff added that undocumented immigrants could be less likely to report crimes if they perceive local officers as federal agents.
"I'm all for having the feds do their jobs," Shurtleff said. "We need to be doing our jobs, not theirs."
The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice also opposes the legislation, acting director Bob Yates said. The opposition largely comes over concerns it could hamper local investigations and questions about the logistics of adding to jail populations by detaining the illegal immigrants.
Donnelson doubted such an agreement would hurt local investigations, saying he wants the agreement to target criminal aliens.
"Right now the officers who stop these people have to turn them loose," Donnelson said. "Let's do something about it, and not frustrate our officers."
Donnelson's vision for the bill is similar to a 2003 agreement between ICE and the Alabama Department of Public Safety, under which 57 active troopers have received ICE training and certification.
While the certified troopers have discretion to arrest any illegal immigrant they come across during their normal duty, they have focused on those such as convicted sex offenders who have illegally re-entered the country, said Haran Lowe, assistant attorney general with the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
"The way we do it is very, very effective for removing the people who probably pose the most hazard," Lowe said. "We're not talking about the guy who jumps the border and comes over and digs ditches."
In Alabama, Lowe said, the agreement hasn't hurt investigators' ability to gather information from immigrant informants. He added the cost of detention falls on the state only if the illegal immigrants face state charges; otherwise, suspects are detained federally.
For now, the Utah Department of Public Safety is taking a wait-and-see approach, said Sgt. Jeff Nigbur, a spokesman for the agency.Comment on this story
Even if the bill passes, the details of the agreement would have to be worked out. And, Nigbur said, the governor would need to approve it.
"That conversation has not happened, and it's a key provision for that bill to work," Nigbur said.
It's also unclear exactly what federal powers would be given to law officers, he said."It's up in the air," he said. "What will be in this contract? What are the powers that it will give to DPS, therefore giving it to other agencies? How much money would it cost?"