SALT LAKE CITY — Despite President Donald Trump's recent executive order on immigration, it's business as usual at the Salt Lake County Jail, according to Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.
That's because the sheriff says his office has always upheld and honored immigration detainers placed on people booked into jail. The new executive order from the president changes nothing, he said.
The order, Winder said, concerns jails only. Street level officers from the Unified Police Department will not be rounding up living in the country illegally, he said.
"People ask me, 'Are the feds forcing you to do something you don’t want to do?' The answer is, 'No,'” Winder said.
Nevertheless, the sheriff said he has been flooded with questions from non-American born residents about what will happen to them.
"My job as a law enforcement official is to calm the fears of people. Whether I’m a Trump supporter or not a Trump supporter, my job is to tell you what’s going on. I've got citizens calling me and they are scared,” he announced during a press conference at the sheriff's office Wednesday in an attempt to quell some of those concerns.
Winder said the question of local law enforcement performing the job of federal immigration agents was already addressed in 2011 when the controversial HB497, Utah's Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, was passed by the Utah Legislature and immediately met with lawsuits. The law required people to prove their citizenship when arrested for serious crimes ranging from certain drug offenses to murder. It also gave police discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offenses. In 2014, a federal judge struck down most of the law's requirements, but allowed some to continue, such as police verifying the immigration status of people arrested for a serious crime.
That hasn't changed. Winder said when a person is arrested and booked into jail today, they are asked if they were born in the United States. If they say no, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are notified. ICE then has 48 hours to decide whether they want to have the inmate held longer until agents can pick up that person, or let that person go.
Winder emphasized Wednesday that checking a person's immigration status deals only with people who have already been arrested for a crime and booked into jail. Local law enforcers will not be going into the community and rounding up people living in the country illegally, he said.
Winder believes there is a lot of misinformation being spread about executive orders the president has signed. One of those orders does allow for federal agents to block people from coming into the country, he said. The other deals with people already living in the U.S. illegaly, he said.
But Winder doesn't expect to see much of a change right away from the feds on that order either, because they don't have the resources.
"For the executive order to have any significance in our country, for the president to substantively change how we are doing immigration in this country, it will take money. Large amounts of money that will have to be appropriated,” he said. "The president has asked for 15,000 new immigration agents. He’s asked for a host of other things. My opinion is he’s all hat and no cattle. That executive order asks for a ton of stuff. It doesn’t substantively change a single thing that’s going on with immigration in this country."
That means if ICE doesn't act on an such immigrants being held in the Salt Lake County Jail within 48 hours of that person's case being adjudicated, that person will be set free, as per law.
Winder admitted the one portion of the executive order that worries him is the U.S. Attorney General's Office has been given the power to take away federal funding from any municipality it perceives isn't following the president's order based on weekly reports from ICE.
“They’re creating a naughty list. The naughty list is made up of jurisdictions who fail to cooperate in their jails,” he said.
But Winder said his jail is in compliance.
The sheriff also addressed the issue of so-called "sanctuary cities," on Wednesday, or cities that have said they won't prosecute those in the country illegally from violating federal immigration law. He said in Utah, there's no such thing.
"The answer is no. No municipal government at any level in the state of Utah — not state, city, county or township — within this state has enacted any statutes, ordinances, policies or resolutions limiting or prohibiting any law enforcement agency or department from supporting any immigration law or civil procedures,” he said.
However, Winder again pointed out that local law enforcers will not be "hunting down" immigrants in the country illegally.
Last week, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown stood alongside advocates and other elected officials to declare the city won't be changing the way it treats immigrants and refugees.