After a heated debate on immigration issues at its Tuesday meeting, the Salt Lake County Council passed an amended resolution by Council Member Steve DeBry that outlined the county’s support of its immigrant residents and urged Utah congressional leaders to pass immigration laws that keep families together.
Thirteen percent of the county’s 1 million residents were born outside of the U.S., according to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
DeBry offered a substitute resolution to the initial resolution by Council Member Shireen Ghorbani. Her resolution included support for law enforcement training programs that seek to build trust with diverse communities and also urged Utah congressional leaders to work on finding solutions for people left in limbo after the Trump administration threatened to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which shields certain young immigrants from deportation.
DeBry’s resolution borrowed ideas like those from Ghorbani’s version, but his first draft included a line that said the county supports, welcomes, and encourages “immigrants coming into our nation and county via legal means,” excluding immigrants who are in the country without legal permission. The line was later edited to reflect all immigrants in the final draft.
Before the Tuesday meeting, Mayra Cedano, the community engagement manager at Comunidades Unidas (Communities United), said it would be unfair for the council to make a distinction between immigrants with and without legal status.
“We believe it goes against our human rights and also, what message are sending to our families, what message are we sending to our kids?” Cedano said. “Are we putting more value in someone’s life just because they have documentation to be in the country?”
Council Chair Richard Snelgrove said he supported Ghorbani’s resolution, but didn’t think it went far enough.
“Steve’s substitute comes closer to answering the overriding question and that is, ‘What is in the best interest of the people of Salt Lake County,’” Snelgrove said.
The first draft of DeBry’s resolution included language that urged Utah congressional leaders to “strengthen border security sufficient to halt illegal border crossings” and provide more resources to border patrol officers so they can combat human trafficking at the border.
“The impact of out of control immigration will have a negative affect the future of the people of Salt Lake County,” Snelgrove said.
Snelgrove said more illegal immigration can lead to more competition for affordable housing, lower wages, more crowded classrooms and more congested highways.
The council heard from about a dozen community members who were immigrants themselves, had family members who were immigrants, or supported the immigrant community.
South Salt Lake resident Guillermo Ramos told the council that he recently gained legal status, but felt he belonged to this community before then. He said he graduated high school and is looking forward to attending the University of Utah this fall.
“I can’t describe my eagerness to keep working hard to contribute whatever I can to this amazing community and I am certain every other person who is undocumented feels the same way,” Ramos said.
The Tuesday meeting continued a conversation the council had in March on whether it would sign onto the Utah Compact, a 2010 document that asks Utah’s congressional leaders to adopt immigration policies that are humane, keep families together and benefit the economy. The document was reaffirmed in March.
In its March 19 meeting, the council decided to leave it up to each member to decide whether they wanted to sign onto the compact individually. Only County Mayor Jenny Wilson has signed it.
DeBry said during that meeting that he didn’t feel comfortable signing onto the compact because it didn’t differentiate between legal immigrants, and those without status.
“I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body,” DeBry said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I have dear friends — legal and illegal — I don’t base anything on that … but I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws.”
After discussion with Ghorbani, DeBry agreed to compromise and change language so it reflects different types of immigrants.
Luis Garza, the executive director of Comunidades Unidas, said DeBry’s resolution was a step in the right direction, but Garza is concerned about some of the comments the council member has made.
“I encourage community members to check out the recording (of the meeting) and make a decision for themselves whether that type of language is inclusive and represents the county in the welcoming way that we hope that it is,” Garza said