Utah Gov. Spencer Cox criticized the Biden administration for failing Americans “at every turn” on the issue of immigration law enforcement during a PBS press conference on Thursday.

Confirming previous Deseret News reporting, Cox said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chooses not to transfer all migrants who break state law after entering the country illegally to detention centers in Nevada and instead releases some of them back into the community.

Has ICE dysfunction made Utah a sanctuary state for migrants?

The state could hold these “lawbreakers” beyond the time prescribed by the criminal justice system, giving ICE time to initiate deportation proceedings, “but the Biden administration has put these rules in place that make it impossible for our jails to do that,” Cox said. “It’s deeply frustrating and it’s frustrating to our sheriffs.”

Does Utah hold migrants who break the law?

Migrants in the country illegally who are arrested for criminal charges are held in Utah jails and processed through the Utah justice system like any other offender, the Deseret News has reported.

“We are detaining migrants who enter illegally and commit crimes,” Cox said.

Prior to the release of criminal offenders who are in the country illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is notified. Following their release, the migrants are turned over to ICE officers who are supposed to take them to official detention centers.

But there are no ICE detention centers in Utah largely because of onerous Biden administration requirements regarding the holding of detainees, as the Deseret News previously reported. There are Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in southern Nevada that serve ICE offices in Utah, Idaho and Montana, Cox said.

“The federal government is supposed to transport these illegal immigrants, these law breakers, back to those holding facilities where they can then be processed,” Cox said.

But that has not been happening in every case, leading the Salt Lake City Field Office to issue a quickly retracted memo that labeled Utah a sanctuary state last year — a claim that has been repeated by multiple political candidates, including Cox’ primary challenger, state Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding.

Why isn’t there an ICE detention facility in Utah?

Utah officials have offered up multiple facilities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to rent for the purpose of properly processing migrants here illegally who break state law, Cox said.


“We would love to have a holding facility here. And we have made several offers to to make that easier so there isn’t this backlog when it comes to transportation,” Cox said. “And they’ve turned down our offers. Unfortunately, I think they like the problem and like exacerbating the problem. And that’s deeply frustrating.”

After meeting with the Department of Public Safety, the sheriff’s association, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, and even reaching out directly to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Cox said, “We’re getting to a better place.”

Cox said that while the agency does need more resources to enforce U.S. immigration law, “they could do more with the resources they have.”

“The federal government, when it comes to border security, when it comes to processing illegal immigrants, when it comes to deporting those who have broken the law, they are failing this country at every turn,” Cox said. “And it’s not a Utah thing. It’s happening in every state.”

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