Building bridges with the Mexican economy

By BLAKELY BOWERS

Immigration has always been an issue in the United States, and continues to be. With immigration comes the issue of racial profiling, or singling an individual out for criminal suspicion based solely on skin color or ethnicity.  Racial profiling is illegal, but often this discriminatory pigeonholing sets the enforcement tone for those in the law enforcement profession.

“If you give the public an example of conduct to follow, get them to enlist and help stand up for what’s right instead of just accepting or allowing these wrong things to happen in their society, then we can make progress” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank. “We need to make sure that criminal behavior profiling is setting the tone, not racial profiling.”

According to Burbank, immigration is the biggest issue facing law enforcement in Salt Lake City, and it’s a matter in dire need of reform. Salt Lake City has one of the highest percentages of legal refugees in the country, he said, along with a steadily increasing number of illegal immigrants. As the number of immigrants rises, so does the need for change.

A Salt Lake City police officer who asked to not be named because of his current work as a narcotics agent, said, “In the past 20 years on duty, I have never seen an issue so impacting on so many levels as immigration is. In some way my job as an officer is impacted by immigration on a daily basis.”

The language barrier plays a big role in this change. “In order to narrow the divide between those who speak English and those who don’t, the community should provide more assistance and printed material in other languages” Burbank said. Some say it is unfair that we make exceptions or change our ways to accommodate non-English speakers, seeing it only fit that immigrants learn the language. The only way for them to progress as contributors to our society is by providing them the necessary measures to know how to follow the laws, to start off on the right foot, and to learn the language.

Burbank tells a story he said is far too common in Salt Lake City, about an immigrant who was misinformed by an acquaintance that he could purchase a license plate from him, slap it on the back of his car and drive legally. The inevitable happens: he is pulled over by the police, confused and still unsure of exactly what’s going on. Driving an unregistered vehicle with stolen plates, this is just the beginning of his troubles.

By preventing the undocumented from having the right information regarding laws and regulation, society is not preventing illegal immigration, Burbank said. “We are allowing them to drive improperly; we are allowing them to break the law unknowingly.” The Salt Lake City Police Department now publishes a handbook for people to read in more than 14 languages. This handbook provides immigrants with the information they need in order to become legal, to properly drive, to register vehicles and to observe neighborhood zoning rules.

You can read detailed information about these handbooks and more immigration assistance here.

Paul Ahlstrom, a long-time Salt Lake City resident, moved his family to Monterrey, Mexico almost three years ago to run a venture capital firm. He has a strong relationship with the state of Nuevo Leon, the state in which Monterrey is located. Watching first-hand the immigration issue from both sides, Ahlstrom became a driving force behind HB 466, which became law in 2011. In brief, the bill passed to start a state program corresponding with the federal guest worker program beginning a partnership between Utah and Mexico to start bringing guest workers here.

“The main factor in this bill is creating a proper way to study the legal, economic, cultural, and educational impact of illegal immigration on Utah. Providing a way to find the right answers in the right ways, not just creating a temporary solution,” Ahlstrom said. To read about Ahlstrom’s current progress in assisting Mexican entrepreneurs, you can visit the Alta Ventures website.

He advocates for providing the right aid and information for immigrants, not simply continuing to allow their illegal entrance to the U.S.  He believes the answer is to assist Mexican citizens in strengthening their own countries by building their economies. “We need to see the positive impact these immigrants have on our country, as well as the positive impact we can have on theirs. The best immigration policy for Utah is aiding in building the Mexican economy.”