by TODD PATTON
In 2011, the Utah Legislature passed a controversial bill pertaining to illegal immigration throughout the state. In subsequent months, outcry from the Latino community and leaders around Salt Lake City, led to a court challenge against House Bill 497.
HB 497, would allow police officers to check the immigration status of most individuals they encounter, making it necessary for those of Latino background to carry their documents with them wherever they go.
And in May 2011, just after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 497, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Utah. That action suspended the bill, and Judge Clark Waddoups of U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, recently postponed the case, citing that he will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a similar bill from Arizona.
While the courts will ultimately decide the fate of HB 497, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and other opponents have urged the courts to consider the problems a bill of this nature could create for officers.
“I should not take into account who [citizens] they are, what language they speak, the color of their skin, where they might be from, and all those other things.” Burbank said. “We all have these biases built into us. But does that hold true? Absolutely not. And if officers start using that [biases] as a basis to make enforcement decisions, that is wrong.”
Burbank also let his thoughts be known in a Feb. 16th op-ed column in The Salt Lake Tribune, the day before Waddoups moved to suspend the bill. Headlined “ ‘Papers-please’ law would harm all Utahns,” Burbank pleaded for the judicial system to block HB 497.
As Burbank—2011 recipient of the Tribune’s “Person on the Year” honor, spoke the same day his column was printed, he reiterated the overriding sentiments toward the issue. And more specifically, he addressed the influence HB 497 would have on the growing Latino community in the state of Utah.
“In Salt Lake City, last year’s census had 22.5 percent of the population being documented as being Hispanic or Latino,” Burbank said. “The school census, when you look at the enrolled children in school, that number is about 31 percent of the population. And to alienate one-third of the population is ridiculous.”
Passing by 59-15 in the Utah House and 22-5 in the Utah Senate it was clear that lawmakers overwhelmingly supported HB 497. However– like Burbank–not all Utah leaders were on board with the controversial bill. Rep. David Litvack D-Salt Lake City, agrees that HB 497 would only create unnecessary issues for police officers and citizens alike.
“I think it does a disservice to the entire community,” Litvack said. “You can’t resolve immigration issues through enforcement only, it’s misleading. And as far as law enforcement, as well as the immigrant community, it puts them in a very compromising position. Law enforcement relies on a good relationship with the entire community, including the undocumented community.”
Being one of the 15 House opponents to the bill last legislative session, Litvack adamantly defended his decision to vote against a bill that many supported.
“My big concern for witnesses of crime, is how willing they will be cooperate, to speak with law enforcement if their big fear is that they’re going to be arrested or deported,” Litvack said.
And while HB 497 has clearly been met with resistance from some, in the end, the law must really be about guaranteeing the safety and rights for all those who live in the state of Utah, Burbank wrote in his guest column.
“In order to perform our job effectively, all people – including those who lack authorization to be in this country – should feel confident approaching police officers and coming forward as victims of or witnesses to crime without fear this interaction may lead to an investigation of their immigration status.”
Filed under: Hispanics & Latinos(as), Immigrants & Refugees, Politics, Student-Journalists | Tagged: ACLU, Chris Burbank, David Litvack, HB 497, Illegal Immigration, Judge Clark Waddoups, Utah Legislature |