As of Tuesday, INS agent Bill Earnest will no longer ride with Salt Lake bicycle patrol officers.
But despite Mayor Rocky Anderson's surprise announcement late Monday that the police department must stop having an agent from the Immigration and Naturalization Service ride with its bicycle officers, INS supervisory special agent Wayne Kirkpatrick doesn't expect his office's workload to decrease.
"We will still be very busy," Kirkpatrick said. "Our relationship with the police department is not diminished."
It's that relationship that leaders of the Latino community in Salt Lake City say they will continue to examine.
Leticia Medina, director of the state Office of Hispanic Affairs, called the mayor's choice a "bold move" and a step in the right direction.
Medina said she was surprised at the timing of the mayor's announcement, considering Latino leaders are meeting Wednesday for a joint discussion on immigration issues with various agencies. Among the invitees are representatives from the INS, police department, U.S. Attorney's Office, Mexican Consulate and GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch's office.
"We need to relook at what the role is with the INS and local officers," Medina said. "I think this is a good wake-up call to look at that process. The biggest concern that my office has is that people are fearful, they are reluctant to report any crime. I think there's definitely more to look at — this is just the surface stuff."
Hispanic civil rights attorney Michael Martinez agreed.
"I think he's just implementing what the City Council said two years ago — that they didn't want such a close relationship with the city police and INS," Martinez said. "I think it goes a long ways to enforce the fact that law enforcement is there to help."
Martinez said city police and the INS had formed a "symbiotic" relationship. Martinez argued the tight relationship essentially nullified the City Council's 4-3 vote in September 1998 that rejected a proposal to cross-deputize Salt Lake police officers so they could enforce some federal immigration laws.
Anderson's office investigated the relationship between police and the INS after Martinez, Medina and other leaders from the Latino community expressed concerns that Latinos were frequently being questioned about their resident status when stopped by police.
Acting Police Chief Arthur "Mac" Connole and Kirkpatrick both denied INS agents were regular participants in routine traffic stops.
"We concentrate on the criminal alien who is dealing narcotics, committing sexual assaults, robberies and the like," Kirkpatrick said. "The Hispanic community knows that. We are not with every patrol unit in the city — that's impossible."
Earnest had ridden with the Pioneer Patrol three days a week since October 1997 to help deal with illegal immigrants suspected of drug trafficking. The Pioneer Patrol works to combat illegal drug trafficking downtown, and many of their arrests involve illegal aliens, Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick admitted that having Earnest ride with bicycle patrol officers did speed up the process of deporting felons who were in the country illegally. That process will now have to wait until illegal immigrants are booked into the Salt Lake County Jail, where INS agents can screen undocumented immigrants.
Connole said he hopes the policy change will "allay fears, and the misperception by some, that the department is attempting to discourage the reporting of crimes perpetrated against people who are undocumented aliens."