Chris Herrod has been called a lot of things during the illegal immigration debate in this state. Passive isn't one of them.
The Provo representative has taken a high-profile stance defending Senate Bill 81, which went into effect on July 1 and includes sweeping immigration reform.
"It seems to be my lot in life because everyone else is afraid of the subject," says Herrod.
The bill enables local law enforcement to act as immigration agents and check immigration status. But many law enforcement agencies have resisted the bill, saying it costs too much to implement and could hurt the agencies' standing in the community.
Herrod is in the midst of a hot debate with Salt Lake City and the Sutherland Institute think tank, and the issue has come to a head in a rather public way -- playing out on the Utah Senate's blog site.
Armed with numbers he says prove that Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank is lying about the impact of illegal immigrants, Herrod, a state representative from Provo, has an upcoming meeting with Mayor Ralph Becker, though no date has been set.
"It's absolutely critical that the public has confidence that the information they're getting from the police chief is correct," Herrod says.
Becker has vigorously defended his police chief.
"I have invited Representative Herrod to meet with me to resolve his misunderstanding of the data provided and to clarify the misperceptions he has of Hispanics in Salt Lake City," Becker wrote while defending his opposition to Senate Bill 81.
Herrod references a radio interview in which Burbank said that "We are not dealing with, especially the undocumented, but Hispanic individuals at a higher rate than anyone else and the population in general."
Herrod filed a records request with the Salt Lake City police to see if arrest rates would prove such a statement, and he says that they instead prove the opposite after some extensive digging.
For example, the initial data set showed an arrest rate of 24.53 percent Hispanic vs. 75.47 percent non-Hispanic. That's a little high for the Hispanic population that the Census estimates is around 22 percent. But it's the latter number with which Herrod takes umbrage. It includes "unknown race," which could include a number of Hispanics and raise the crime rate of that ethnic group considerably.
But here is where Herrod has gotten himself in trouble with Hispanic groups and the Sutherland Institute. His comments -- including during a Sutherland panel discussion last month -- have been taken to mean he thinks all Hispanics are illegal. He argues that few such numbers exist, leaving the rest to assumptions. For example, the Pew Hispanic Center has stated that 38 percent of the Hispanic population is here illegally and 85 percent of all illegal immigrants in Utah are Hispanic.
"What I'm saying is, that's the only data we have," he said, adding that he feels that's why SB 81 is needed. If law enforcement agencies will use even one or two positions to handle immigration cases, exact numbers could be known.
The Sutherland Institute responded to Herrod's accusations on Tuesday.
"Hypothetical arguments about unknown numbers of undocumented immigrants in Utah's county jails are similarly irrelevant and have little informative value in a fact-based dialogue. Representative Herrod's defense of data on ethnicity and arrests are cases in point," read a letter to all state elected officials.
Herrod's wife is a legal immigrant from Ukraine, and he said the issue is so important to him because illegal immigration harms people who would like to enter the U.S. legally. He said he is getting more evidence from more records requests that refute the Sutherland assertion that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes. For example, 14 percent of inmates in prison for forcible sodomy are illegally in the country and 10 percent of the murder population are illegal. That compares to about 4 percent of Utah's total population being illegal immigrants.
"This is not insignificant," Herrod said. "This is not some victimless crime."
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