Unfortunately, state legislatures sometimes require that federal authorities intervene in order to save those states from making foolish decisions.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday when U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups struck enough verbiage to basically void the Utah Legislature’s 2011 attempt to create its own immigration policy and appoint state and local police agencies to enforce it.
Some folks with hard-core anti-immigration inclinations may think that the ruling is good news for undocumented immigrants and those who profit from their presence. But the fact is that those most justly pleased by Waddoups’ decision should be members of the Legislature and those who toil in police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state.
Then-Rep. Steve Sandstrom, R-Orem, was the House sponsor of the bill, HB497. He told The Tribune Wednesday that he had never intended his measure to strike terror into the hearts of inoffensive people who suddenly had to be afraid that a routine traffic stop might be used, or concocted, to throw them into legal hell.
Thus he supported Wednesday’s ruling, in which the judge limited the immigration role of Utah law enforcement to checking the status of suspects already being held on serious charges, not turning — or prolonging — routine contacts with the public into immigration sweeps.
And wider heads in the state’s law enforcement community would almost certainly agree.
No police department is skilled or omnipresent enough to perform its function without a lot of help from the communities they serve. Officers must win the trust of people of all types and socioeconomic strata so that as many people as possible will report crimes, come forward as witnesses and otherwise be the eyes and ears of the law.
If it hadn’t been immediately enjoined by the court when it was passed, on its way to being effectively gutted this week, HB497 promised to be nothing so much as a wedge driven between immigrant communities — including those with full legal status — and the law enforcement agencies that are there to protect all of us.
The law was an expression of frustration over the federal failure to reform immigration policies and make them enforceable. That failure is still there, as is the frustration.
But immigration is a federal issue. State lawmakers shouldn’t meddle. Local law enforcement should not be burdened.
Utahns should accept the end of HB497 and lobby our members of Congress to do their job on that issue.
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