WASHINGTON Utah's congressional delegation requested 22 additional immigration officers from the Homeland Security Department Wednesday, saying the state Legislature and local law enforcement need help in handling the increasing number of illegal immigrants coming to Utah.
In two separate letters sent to the department, the delegation requested 10 investigators from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office, known as ICE, as well as 12 additional ICE officers who work on detaining and removing illegal immigrants.
"The steady flow of illegal aliens into Utah has increased significantly in recent years and is unlikely to subside in the near future," the delegation wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "Many illegal aliens are drawn to our state for economic reasons. But as law enforcement can attest, many become engaged in criminal activity such as illegal drug use, drug trafficking, violence against women, gang violence, fraud, violent crimes and other offenses."
In its request, the delegation pointed to a comprehensive immigration bill recently passed by the Utah State Legislature. If signed by the governor, the bill will include some law enforcement provisions when it takes effect in July 2009. As approved, SB81 requires the attorney general to enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security for "enforcement of federal immigration and customs laws" by some state and local law enforcement personnel. It also requires jail officials to make a "reasonable effort" to determine the citizenship and legal status of suspects charged with felonies or drunken driving and notify the Department of Homeland Security if that status can't be determined. Under the new law, illegal presence would be considered a flight risk.
Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said that right now there are only 25 ICE special agents assigned to cover Utah's 29 counties. They have also learned that of the illegal immigrants who get deported each year, between 400 and 500 return to Utah.
"This is not acceptable," they wrote.
The delegation wants two additional ICE investigators each for St. George, Provo and Ogden and four for Salt Lake City.
They also want 12 detention and removal officers assigned to Utah, particularly to help in the southeastern part of the state."Our jails are full," they wrote. "The crime rates continue to increase and we can no longer afford to let this problem escalate," they wrote.
Contributing: Deborah Bukeley