As the parallel pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism threaten the health and well-being of so many community members, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. There are many unknowns, and few concrete answers.
We worry about the disintegrating trust between community members and the law enforcement representatives meant to protect them. We fear for the health and safety of people who are held behind bars — and the workers responsible for monitoring them.
At this time, our leaders should be seeking any and every opportunity to keep people safe and build their trust in public institutions. That is why now, more than ever, justifies the time to end the Salt Lake County Jail’s collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This collaboration erodes trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement agencies, and now is unnecessarily exposing more people to coronavirus.
Salt Lake County collaborates with ICE under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which is a grant program that provides reimbursements to state and county governments if they agree to act as detention centers for undocumented immigrants. In 2019, Salt Lake County received half a million dollars through its SCAAP agreement with ICE.
In addition, Salt Lake County and ICE also partner in 48 hour immigration detainers, under which law enforcement agencies will hold undocumented immigrants at the will of ICE up to 48 hours. These detainers result in more people being held behind bars in the midst of a public health crisis.
These harmful collaborations directly and negatively impact the relationship between Salt Lake County government and its own immigrant communities. They inspire fear and mistrust of law enforcement, as any potential call to 911 or cooperation with police must be balanced against the threat of deportation. Mistrust, fueled by fear of eventual contact with and deportation by ICE, makes our communities less safe.
During this global pandemic, we have witnessed an understandable surge in concern for inmates and detainees across our country. People who are detained — and also those who work — in correctional settings can’t avoid the dangerous conditions the rest of us are advised to avoid. They are stuck in close quarters, with recirculated air, and many have underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
No one should be kept in these conditions right now, unless absolutely necessary. Detaining immigrants at the pleasure of the federal government is not worth the threats to our communities. Holding individuals in a setting where they are vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, and then transporting them across borders to put others at risk, runs counter to the spirit of “Utah Leading Together.”
Cooperation between local governments and ICE is a matter of choice. We must end the collaboration between Salt Lake County and ICE. By continuing to collaborate with the federal government in this way, Salt Lake County is unnecessarily risking the health and safety of its residents. The county is adding to the erosion of trust between residents and law enforcement and ignoring the enhanced threat of coronavirus spread.
We all live with so much fear and uncertainty right now. We need to take every public action possible to promote trust, cooperation and well-being. It is possible to end this needless threat to health and safety in Salt Lake County.
Please join us in calling on Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson to end their collaboration with ICE immediately.
Anna Thomas is a senior policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children, a local advocacy non-profit that is part of the Enriching Utah Coalition.
Dulce Horn is a community organizer and intern at Comunidades Unidas, a local immigrant rights non-profit. Both are members of the Enriching Utah Coalition.