SB81 provisions clarified by officials
Immigration attorney tells immigrants, 'Don't be scared' about new laws
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
On the day after Utah's sweeping new immigration laws went into effect, members of the immigrant community gathered in Salt Lake City to voice their concerns about the new statutes — and to find out if they can expect to be targeted when they come into contact with law enforcement officers.
Representatives of community groups, an immigration lawyer and a federal immigration enforcement agent fielded questions and offered clarifications on what police can and cannot do under the new rules. Immigration attorney Mark Alvarez urged those in attendance not to overreact.
"Don't be scared," Alvarez said. "Be vigilant, pay attention to what's occurring, but this idea … that police officers all have immigration authority, that's not true."
In response to a question about whether a traffic stop can turn into a shakedown for legal presence documentation, Alvarez said anyone pulled over by the police is required to show a driver's license, proof of insurance and current registration — and nothing else.
"If the police officers asks about your immigration status … everybody has the right to remain silent," Alvarez said. "You never have to give information that can be used against you."
Though Utah's largest law enforcement agencies, including the Utah Highway Patrol, Salt Lake Police Department and Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, have said they will not participate in a voluntary cross-deputization aspect of SB81 that trains officers on immigration enforcement, those who are arrested and booked into jail will be screened for legal presence, as required under the new laws.
Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino de Utah told the audience gathered at downtown's Centro Civico Mexicano that it was a time to toe the line of the law.
"It is very important today, more than ever, to obey the law," Yapias said. "If you end up in jail … you've committed a crime, then you're on your own. Most of you would agree that we don't want criminals in the Latino community."
Just who is and who isn't a criminal was an issue addressed by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement field director Steven Branch. Branch, who was present to address questions on federal immigration enforcement, said agents would not respond to anonymous tips or those who would use reporting as a means of intimidation.
"For us to respond, it's going to have to be based on facts," Branch said. "They threaten you, we're not going to respond."
Branch also explained that even those law enforcement officers who do receive federal training are only qualified to perform post-incarceration duties, not to act as field officers. Currently, the only two Utah agencies that have utilized that training, known as the 287(g) program, are the sheriff's offices in Weber and Washington counties. Both did so before SB81 was implemented.
Anna Velasquez attended Thursday's meeting with her two children and said she was more concerned about how a particular officer might handle a situation, regardless of agency policy.
"I'm hearing … we're all hearing to not be afraid," Velasquez said. "But we all know that there are cops that will do their own thing."
Velasquez said she worried about being in a situation where she might really need the help of law enforcement but would have to think about "other things" before making a call to the police.
The individual conduct of law enforcement officers, after the implementation of SB81, is a matter being monitored by a variety of groups.
Isabel Rojas, of the Utah Immigrant and Refugee Integration Coalition and Comunidades Unidas, said her groups, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, would be creating a database to track abuses and missteps in upholding the mandates of the new immigration laws. The groups, according to Rojas, will also act as intermediaries "to give community, businesses, landlords and other organizations a safe location in which they can call and report harassment, and any sort of discrimination as it relates to … SB81 legislation."
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