Two public officials who used numbers that portrayed an exaggerated link between illegal immigrants and the drug trade said they thought they had interpreted the figures correctly.
At a recent congressional field hearing taking testimony about illegal immigrants, authorities bemoaned the problems com-mu-ni-ties were facing as a result of non-Americans migrating to Salt Lake City to ply their criminal trade.The hearing, hosted by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, alleged illegal immigrants constituted 80 percent of the felony drug arrests in Salt Lake City. In Salt Lake County, the number was 51 percent.
But the numbers that were being tossed around at the hearing were wrong, and both Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard and Salt Lake County Commissioner Mary Callaghan are doing damage control.
The numbers were provided by the pre-trial services division of the Salt Lake County Jail. The countywide number on felony drug arrests did not represent the percentage of drug arrests in the county as a whole. Instead, it represented that 51 percent of suspected illegal immigrants, when arrested, had been arrested on drug offenses.
In Salt Lake City, police Capt. Roger Winkler said he thinks the 80 percent figure was tossed about because of a drug dealing operation at Pioneer Park in which 80 percent of those arrested were suspected illegal immigrants.
That operation was more than three years ago, but Winkler said people are likely to remember that of 191 drug dealers at Pioneer Park and 600 controlled purchases, 80 percent of the people arrested had documented illegal status.
"In that area that is simply what you are going to find. If you look at the overall city, though, I doubt if it is 10 or 15 percent" of the arrests, he said.
The Salt Lake Police Department does not typically track its arrests by immigrant status, Bell said. And, he said, officers don't target who they arrest based on skin color.
"It is not us setting these people up in the dope business, we're just arresting them," Winkler said. "I don't care what color they are, I hate them all. If they are a drug dealer, I hate them."
Winkler and other officers who have worked at stopping drug dealing are the first to say illegal immigrants constitute part of the problem, but they're certainly not all of the problem.
DEA spokesman Don Mendrala said the majority of meth lab manufacturers are American citizens.
"We have a tremendous problem with methamphetamine that cuts across all barriers. But the clandestine manufacturer is very rarely Hispanic," and thus not likely to be part of the Latino immigrant population that is migrating to Utah, Mendrala said.
In contrast, the dope that comes from Mexico almost always is sold by dealers who are Hispanic, and suspected illegals, and brought to Utah by suspected illegal immigrants, Mendrala said.
Both officers emphasize the drug trade is booming in Utah and its businessmen and women are of all colors and all backgrounds.