Shocked by what he saw when riding with Salt Lake police officers, Sen. Bob Bennett penned a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno asking for more immigration and naturalization agents to control the state's illegal immigrant population.
"From my personal observations - I was present when a cocaine buy was made by a police officer - many of these sales involve illegal aliens," Bennett said in his letter to the country's top law enforcement official.The senator's comments drew fire Tuesday from the governor's Hispanic Advisory Council. "Illegal aliens do not commit a disproportionate number of crimes," said Jesse Soriano, a member of the council. "Senator Bennett's comments are driven by . . . a few disturbing experiences."
The freshman senator told Reno he's concerned about the number of recent criminal incidents involving illegal immigrants and the state's ability to deal with the situation.
In a press release, he added that illegal immigrants are coming to Utah instead of states with more INS agents, the federal officers responsible for determining the status of a person and deporting him or her if necessary.
"Because they have little fear of legal recourse, illegal aliens have targeted our state as a safe haven for drug sales and other illegal activities," he said. "How can the INS justify placing so few agents in Utah in the wake of the rapidly increasing crime rate by illegal immigrants?"
It was the ride with Salt Lake police that Bennett said was "an eye-opening experience."
"As I rode with police officers in downtown Salt Lake and witnessed the sale of drugs involving illegal aliens, I was outraged by the fact that these illegal aliens were coming into our city at an alarming pace and perpetuating the rise of violent and drug-related crime," Bennett said.
The case he used to illustrate his point to Reno was that of Fredrico Nanez Gomez, 22, living in Utah illegally. Gomez was convicted on a misdemeanor weapons charge in January of this year, but INS agents failed to deport him after the Washington County attorney's office reported Gomez.
Their failure to act, Bennett charged, allowed Gomez to remain in Utah, and he is now charged with two first-degree felonies, including rape of an 11-year-old girl.
Bennett's letter pleads with Reno for a review of the state's needs and asks for a response to his request. Utah has only two INS agents to handle all immigration and naturalization issues.
Salt Lake's INS officer in charge, Meryl Rogers, was out of the office Tuesday. The governor's Hispanic Advisory Council expressed "deep concern" about Bennett's comments and concerns.
"I am deeply troubled over Sen. Bennett's statement because it divides the community," said Juan Mejia, chairman of the council. "It promotes hatred and racism. This is not to say the illegal aliens do not commit crime. However, crimes are not being committed only by illegal aliens, nor am I aware of any data indicating that there is a crime wave by illegal aliens in Utah."
Mejia said Bennett's assessment distort's Utah's image nationally and internationally. He said the council will follow up on the senator's concerns and obtain data that accurately reflect criminal activity by illegal aliens.
Soriano said the state does need more INS agents, but for different reasons.
"Salt Lake's INS office needs more agents to meet the high demand of applicants attempting to adjust their status in the United States so they can become legal residents," Soriano said.