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Salt Lake City police chief: Utah will allow legal noncitizens to be officers — and Washington should take notice

Salt Lake City’s police chief is interviewed by reporters in Salt Lake City during a year when many police reform initiatives were brought up.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown speaks to reporters at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. 
Derek Petersen, Deseret News

Gov. Spencer Cox recently signed a bill that would allow noncitizens to serve as law enforcement officers if they are lawful residents, have been in the U.S. for at least five years and have legal authorization to work in the country. As Salt Lake City’s chief of police, I support this law. It will increase diversity in our law enforcement, aid in our recruiting efforts and give smart, dedicated residents the opportunity to help serve their communities.

It is also one step toward much-needed immigration reform on a federal level.

Utah has long been a model for immigration reform. In 2019, Utah was one of just a few states that passed legislation helping noncitizens avoid deportation if they are convicted of a misdemeanor. In 2010, law enforcement, business, community and religious leaders came together to sign the Utah Compact on Immigration (and signed it again in 2019). The compact advocates for a humane, compassionate approach to immigration reform, focused on keeping families together, reserving law enforcement resources for criminal rather than civil violations, and recognizing the significant contributions immigrants have made to the state’s economy.

But states like Utah wouldn’t need these state-specific policies if we accomplish national reforms focused on sensible immigration solutions. Sen. Mitt Romney, Sen. Mike Lee and other representatives in Washington should work together to build an immigration system that works for U.S. families, grows our economy and strengthens communities, while welcoming immigrants who are critical partners in our society.

Immigration reform should be a federal priority, not just a state priority.

This reform should include a legal path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants — especially Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, Temporary Protected Status recipients, agricultural workers and other essential workers our communities desperately need (the large majority of our country’s 2.4 million farmworkers are immigrants, for example, and a majority of them lack authorized immigration status).

What’s more, Americans support this action; a Fox News poll on Election Day found that 71% of Americans support legal status for undocumented immigrants.

As a member of the law enforcement community, I know firsthand how impactful these reforms would be. We had a young man who became a youth Explorer with our department, with the hope of becoming an officer when he was old enough. He performed hundreds of community service hours in the four years he was in our Explorer program. The officers who instructed him held him up as an example of a person who would make a great officer, and he rose to the highest rank within the program.

Sadly, his dream of becoming an officer had a major hurdle: He was undocumented. By changing these laws and removing that hurdle, we give kids the chance to live out their dreams and give back to the community they have grown up in.

Rather than arresting and deporting immigrants who are just trying to work or reunite with family and otherwise have a spotless background, it’s far more important for state and local law enforcement to focus limited resources and funding on true threats to public safety and security.

A clear pathway to permanent residency would provide future immigrants with legal avenues to enter the country and help local businesses hire legal employees. It will also broaden the legal labor market for the agriculture and farming jobs that many undocumented workers often fill. We owe them the ability to earn permanent resident status and the possibility of citizenship.

Our nation’s immigration system is broken, and Utah’s highly respected Lee and Romney are the best candidates to bring Washington together to act on this issue.

I’m proud to be a Utahn, and I’m proud of the efforts our state has made to implement sensible solutions for immigrant reform. Allowing legal noncitizens to serve as law enforcement officers in Utah is an important step toward bigger, national changes that will make our country safer and more prosperous.

Mike Brown is Salt Lake City chief of police.