SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah leaders have issued a fierce response after the director for the ICE Salt Lake City Field Office reportedly released a memo designating Utah as a “sanctuary state,” which is known as a state that actively offers political support to undocumented immigrants.
The Utah Sheriffs’ Association, led by President Mike Smith, first responded to the claims made by Michael Bernacke, Field Office Director for the Salt Lake City Field Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stating that Bernacke “issued sharp and unwarranted criticism” of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, Cache County Sheriff’s Office, and Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Smith went on to say that Bernacke’s claims came after the Utah sheriffs ended “intergovernmental service agreements” for their offices to house ICE inmates.
Prominent political figures in the state, including Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, and House Speaker Brad Wilson also responded, echoing the Utah sheriffs’ opposition to the claims.
In a statement defending Utah’s law enforcement, Utah leaders said that the state “has never been a ‘sanctuary state,'” and that Bernacke’s claims were simply an effort to apply political pressure to Utah sheriffs.
State officials continued to say that ICE will be retracting the claims made by Bernacke. “During a meeting with Utah elected officials, a field office director for ICE indicated the memo purporting to designate Utah as a sanctuary state will be withdrawn and acknowledged the memo was unjustified,” the statement reads.
They expressed that while Utah has every intention of working with ICE and the federal government to resolve these issues, at the core, it is a federal problem.
Utah’s political leaders had this to say regarding ICE and the humanitarian issues facing this state and our nation:
The border crisis, and the consequent increase in ICE detainees, represents a federal failure, not a state or local failure. Utah’s cities and local law enforcement officials are under no obligation to serve as a backstop for longtime immigration failures at the federal level. We certainly want to work constructively with our federal partners, but when ICE requirements become too onerous, Utah’s sheriffs are completely justified in declining to sign agreements with ICE.
The federal government’s failed policies and inability to protect our country’s border is causing upheaval and strain on states across the nation, including Utah. States are being forced to deal with the public safety, financial and humanitarian consequences of the federal government’s ongoing failure to reform immigration policies.
We appreciate the field director and ICE for following through on their commitment to publicly recall their inaccurate and misleading memo referencing Utah as a sanctuary state. We urge the federal government to work collaboratively with states to create a compassionate and common sense solution to our nation’s spiraling border crisis.
We are a state and a nation of immigrants, but laws must be followed to ensure the safety and well-being of those who choose to call our country home. Utah welcomes immigrants, and we require they use the proper channels, obey our laws and become contributing members of our communities.
One Utah politician, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, claimed that he was “horrified” to learn about ICE’s designation of Utah as a sanctuary state. However, the mayor had a gripe with how things are being handled at a local level, calling upon Utah politicians and law enforcement to do better. He said that “over two-thirds of arrested illegal immigrants” last fiscal year were released back into our neighborhoods “due to a lack of cooperation from local authorities.”
Staggs went on to say that many of these individuals are repeat offenders of violent and sexual crimes.
“Utah now ranks with the Democrat states of Washington, New York, Illinois, and California as sanctuary states that mock the rule of law. This will not end well if not promptly course corrected,” Staggs said. “I call upon Governor Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams, and House Speaker Brad Wilson to lay aside agendas and consider the consequences of continuing down this path.”
Information and resources for noncitizens, including immigrant obligations, can be found here.