SALT LAKE CITY — Despite an executive order that they say brings confusion and fear, Salt Lake's mayor and police chief stood alongside advocates and other elected officials Thursday to declare the city won't be changing the way it treats immigrants and refugees.
For police to be able to inspire trust in the community and to encourage residents of all kinds of backgrounds to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement, Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said it has long been his department's policy not to question immigration status or take on the roles of federal immigration officials.
That policy remains unaffected by President Donald Trump's executive order this week ordering construction of a border wall and cutting federal funds to "sanctuary cities."
"The residents in Salt Lake City need to have trust in their police officers," Brown said. "If police officers were forced to detect and detain immigrants who were here without authorization, this trust is easily broken. It inadvertently interjects bias into our profession and makes the compassionate service provided daily by police officers less legitimate."
Brown shared pats on the back or hugs with advocates who spoke during the press conference. Prior to the event, Brown met with the group to discuss relationships with police. When they asked him what had changed since the order was handed down, the chief replied, "Nothing."
Brown is scheduled to attend a national meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association in Washington, D.C., in two weeks where immigration policy is high on the agenda. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have been invited, he said.
"We need to have further conversations, there needs to be clarification, but also, they need to listen to us as law enforcement officials in the cities throughout the country," Brown said. "They need to hear how we represent the communities they serve, they need to hear how we work tirelessly to build trust, and that with one fell swoop of a pen that could be crushed."
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said she and Brown are among the mayors and police chiefs across the country who have been left wondering what Trump's order means for their city.
"Confusion is no way to govern, and fear is certainly no way to police," Biskupski said. "In cities and communities across the nation, including Salt Lake City, President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration has created both fear and confusion."
Biskupski noted that at a national gathering of mayors last week, leaders concerned about immigrants and refugees in their cities filled a ballroom, and she expects to see more mayors across the country taking similar action.
In the meantime, Biskupski emphasized that immigrants and refugees are "safe and welcome in Salt Lake City."
Building a barrier of fear between police and Salt Lake's immigrant community would have tragic consequences, Biskupski said, leading to unreported crimes like domestic violence, criminal exploitation of vulnerable people, and families deciding to keep their children out of school.
Biskupski and Brown emphasized that the city's immigration policy has not and will not impact efforts to police crime, however.
Not offering any names, Biskupski said national leaders should be focusing on "building bridges, not walls" by seeking immigration reform that considers those individuals who are already in the country and are contributing to their communities.
Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, criticized the notion that the majority of immigrants should be jailed and pledged the organization's committment to defending those whose rights have been challenged.
"The fear created by these aggressive and flawed orders is real," Lowe said. "(The ACLU has) a proven track record of standing up to the government when those in power seek to trample our civil rights and limit our civil liberties, and we stand ready to spot such abuses in our nation's immigration enforcement and border security actions."
Biskupski and Brown were joined by democratic legislators, including Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City; and Reps. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City; Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City; and Mark Wheatley, D-Murray.
Romero urged immigrants, refugees and their loved ones to go about their lives without fear.
"We want families to know that they're safe, that they should go to work, that they should go to school, and that we, as their elected officials, are compassionate and loving and we will not let anything happen to our communities," Romero said. "We want them to go on in their daily lives and do the things they've always done because we're here to protect them."