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In our opinion: Leave NCIC alone

Published: Saturday, May 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Chief Burbank notes that "[j]ust as a law enforcement officer would have no need to determine whether someone has paid their taxes in the previous year, officers should not be forced to wade through civil immigration matters to determine whether the individual the officer has stopped has an outstanding criminal warrant for their arrest."

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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Immigration reform is winding its way through both chambers in Congress, in fits and starts. Many proposals are being considered, rejected or lumped into bills that may or may not find their way into law. And just because an amendment didn't find its way into the bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week doesn't mean it won't reappear somewhere else.

One of those proposals recently attracted the attention of Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City's chief of police. Specifically, Sessions Amendment 35 would mandate that civil immigration information be included in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

Chief Burbank thinks this is a bad idea. He's absolutely right.

The purpose of the NCIC is to provide law enforcement officers with a tool to determine whether someone they've arrested poses a danger either to the officer or to themselves. Someone's immigration status has no bearing on the safety of a police officer, and using the NCIC for this purpose would clutter up the system with information that is, at best, tangential to the purposes for which the NCIC was created.

Chief Burbank notes that "[j]ust as a law enforcement officer would have no need to determine whether someone has paid their taxes in the previous year, officers should not be forced to wade through civil immigration matters to determine whether the individual the officer has stopped has an outstanding criminal warrant for their arrest."

This is not to diminish the importance of enforcing immigration law, nor is it a recommendation to overlook the nonpayment of taxes. Rather, it is a call to avoid misusing the NCIC tool in a way that could compromise a police officer's effectiveness.

During these difficult economic times, the law enforcement community already is forced to do more with less, both in terms of time and resources. Adding one more bureaucratic burden to police responsibilities is a disservice both to the officers and to the communities they are committed to serve. In some cases, where the performance of their duties puts them in dangerous situations and every second matters, extraneous information in the NCIC could waste valuable time in ways that compromise an officer's effectiveness and safety. That's both an unacceptable and an unnecessary risk.

We welcome the Senate's focus on immigration reform, and we have repeatedly championed reforms that will improve the broken immigration system. We also recognize that any discussions about widespread, sweeping changes will result in a healthy amount of brainstorming, with some good and some bad ideas thrown into the mix. No doubt members of both the House and Senate also are considering many worthwhile suggestions to improve the system. It just so happens that littering the NCIC database with immigration information isn't one of them.

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