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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Attorney General Special Agent Mick Spilker arrests two suspects at a home in West Point during a raid by the SECURE Strike Force. The collection of agents, funded by a federal grant, targets major crime inside Utah's undocumented immigrant population.
Editorial: Immigrants living in the shadows

Lack of reform only helps criminals.

First Published May 14 2014 01:01 pm • Last Updated May 15 2014 10:06 am

It would be a terrible dilemma for anyone: Continue to break the law, or do the bidding of criminals, and risk deportation. Or work with law enforcement and risk the lives of family members.

For the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, and the estimated 110,000 in Utah, it’s all too common.

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Criminals use the undocumented immigrants’ predicament to victimize them or force them into committing crimes, knowing they can’t report it to police.

And laws that require local law enforcement to check residency status of those involved in investigations just make it more difficult to gather evidence against the criminals. Few undocumented immigrants are willing to work with local authorities to solve crimes if it means making their status known.

But threatening them with deportation doesn’t work, either, when the safety of their loved ones is at stake.

The situation is untenable, and it points out the dangers of congressional inaction to reform the current broken immigration system. The political risk to politicians of taking on immigration law in an election year pales when compared to the very real physical and emotional dangers faced by undocumented immigrants every day.

Trying to work and support families in an unfamiliar country is difficult enough without also being forced to live in the shadows where criminals prey on those who are not protected by law.

A local investigation of a man suspected of sexually abusing young boys and forcing them to distribute drugs by threatening their families was successful because officers and community leaders built trust among immigrants.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies to protect those who testify or who help authorities investigate major crimes are a small step forward. But those policies can change case by case, and don’t ensure the safety of most illegal immigrants.

Offering special visas to allow them to stay in the country is a temporary Band-Aid instead of what’s really needed: major surgery to make the immigration system fair and workable for those already in this country who came or stayed without proper authorization.

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The current laws are something like Prohibition in that they create an underground in which innocent people are victimized because of bad laws. It’s unlikely anything will be accomplished in Congress anytime soon, and that is an unconscionable dereliction of duty.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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