by JAVAN RIVERA
What would you say if you saw the police carting off your neighbor? His only crime is that he hasn’t waded through the years of paperwork and processing in order to obtain legal citizenship in the U.S. What about a friend who gets pulled over and asked for immigration papers or proof of citizenship solely because of her skin color? Would you step up and say something then? Or by then would it already be too late?
These are the questions Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank is asking, as he fires yet another salvo in the ever increasing debate over illegal immigration in the state of Utah.
Burbank, whose infamously lenient take on illegal immigration has earned him the nickname “Sanctuary Burbank,” from opponents, said that the current proposed “solutions” for illegal immigration in Utah represent a serious threat to the civil liberties of U.S. citizens and could actually increase the crime rate of Utah should they be enacted.
“These are ridiculous laws,” Burbank said of proposed immigration laws similar to those passed in Arizona.
Arizona’s SB 1070 require police officers to actively check immigration status during legal stops, and require all aliens, legal or otherwise, to carry proper documentation of their citizenship at all times. Failure to do so could result in a misdemeanor charge.
“Any time we as a society can say one segment of our population—because of who they are, what they look like, the language they speak—is more engaged in criminal behavior [as a result]. Well that’s as racist and biased as anything I’ve ever heard,” Burbank said.
Burbank said that he believes by creating laws that target illegal immigrants, Utah will create significant problems for the community on two levels—crime increase, and the all too slippery slope of racial profiling.
“You actually increase crime when you enforce these kinds of laws,” Burbank said.
He cited the formation of the Italian Mafia as an example of racially specific profiling leading to increased crime, saying that due to the shunning of the Italian people on the East Coast, they began to look to each other for support and eventually turned to crime as an alternative to pursuing legal jobs outside of their own community.
One of Burbank’s main concerns with the proposed laws, is that the threatened deportation of illegal immigrants increases the likelihood those immigrants won’t feel comfortable reporting crimes to the police for fear of calling deportation down on themselves.
“When we have a segment of society that turns their back or says ‘We’re not going to interact with the police,’” Burbank said. “Well, the criminal element thrives.”
The other great threat Burbank believes these laws represent is that of selective racial profiling.
“We are a very effective form of oppression,” Burbank said of the dangers associated with racial profiling. “Those things [profiling] are wrong and it’s my job to prevent that from happening in my profession. I will not allow my officers to be involved in that behavior.”
Burbank isn’t the only one interested in seeing Utah’s illegal immigration status solved through non-aggressive legislation. State Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, also stated concerns similar to Burbank’s regarding an increase in crime, should these laws be enacted.
“I think that [Burbank’s view] is probably true,” Edwards said. “I’ve talked to people in law enforcement who believe that it [immigration laws] would drive people who might report crime underground.”
Not only did Edwards express concerns regarding a possible increase in crime, but also the potentially disastrous effect such laws could have on Utah’s economy, citing the numerous illegal immigrants who help maintain Utah’s farmland.
“They [immigration laws] in the end are not realistic because of the devastation to the economy and tearing families apart,” Edwards said. “If people are going to be here anyway, let’s help them to be responsible.”
Of course not everyone is satisfied with Utah’s current policies on illegal immigration such as HB116, which passed last year, allowing illegal immigrants who fulfill certain requirements to obtain jobs and in-state tuition at Utah’s public colleges and universities.
State Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, is particularly adamant about the problems that illegal immigration is causing for those waiting to immigrate to the U.S. legally.
“By us tolerating illegal immigration, we are hurting those who are waiting up to 20 years for legal immigration,” Herrod said. “Where is the compassion for those who are waiting in line? Nobody is talking about those individuals.”
Herrod, who has a number of legal immigrants in his family, including his wife, a native of Russia, supports the proposed laws that would crack down on illegal immigration. He believes that by acting as what he calls a “sanctuary state,” Utah is hurting legal immigrants as much as, if not more than, the illegals who come into the state.
“As a sanctuary state, what we’re saying is that we love illegal immigrants more than we do legal immigrants,” Herrod said. “That’s, to me, simply warped.”
With the gulf of opinion regarding illegal immigration widening with each new approach, there is at least one thing both sides of the issue agree on—obtaining legal citizenship should be easier.
“We ought to be about making the process of legal immigration easier,” Rep. Edwards said. “Right now it’s onerous, expensive, and time-consuming.”
In the end, it’s hard to say which side of the argument is correct, or if a proper solution can ever truly be enacted. According to Edwards, the problem can merely be managed and will ultimately be solved only if the government gets involved at a federal level.
“States are attempting to solve this in their own ways, but in the end it’s a federal problem,” Edwards said. “We can deal with people once they’re here in our state, but the issue of immigration is a federal one.”