Ogden officials show support for immigrants through community meeting

Sunday , June 18, 2017 - 5:00 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Chief Watt’s last name.

The Ogden city mayor, police chief and members of the city council met with the community Saturday to emphasize a point once again — they intend to treat all members of the community equally.

St. Joseph Catholic Church hosted a community meeting with Mayor Mike Caldwell to help show solidarity with Ogden’s immigrant and refugee communities. The mayor was joined by Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt, city council members Luis Lopez and Doug Stephens, as well as Sarah Roberts, the Ogden School District’s executive director for elementary education and student access.

“We win by lifting each other up, and one of the things I’m really proud of is the diversity we have in Ogden,” Caldwell said. 

Joining the officials were Azenett A. Garza Caballero, a Weber State University professor and member of the Ogden Diversity Commission, and Viviana Felix, the city’s diversity affairs officer as well as several local religious leaders.

Around 30 community members joined the meeting, asking questions in Spanish and English about their rights when getting pulled over by police and what they need to disclose when registering their children for school. Mostly, however, the meeting’s purpose seemed to be about alleviating fears.

RELATEDOgden leaders approve resolution of support for immigrants, refugees

“We’re very sensitive to the needs of our community, we’re big believers in our community and the diversity of our community,” Watt said. “The mayor and I have had several meetings, we’ve stated very clearly, I believe, our position on the question that comes up most often ... we play no role in federal immigration and have no desire to play a role in enforcement of federal immigration laws. In fact, the question of a person’s immigration status is irrelevant to us.”

Caldwell summarized that the role of city government is to pick up garbage, provide access to parks and recreation, make sure water is clean and make sure neighborhoods are safe.

“We do not get involved in federal policy,” he said. “Our job is to ... provide access to opportunity for everybody.”

To the question of possible police discrimination toward the Latino community, Watt explained police vehicles are equipped with cameras and officers wear body cameras. Any resident who feels treated unfairly can file a complaint, either by calling the chief’s office at 801-629-8226 or by calling a 24-hour watch command at 801-629-8060.

“What happens if they only stop you because of your Latino appearance is, they get fired,” Watt said.

He also added that the department has a community outreach officer, Diana Lopez, who acts as a liaison between city residents and the chief, particularly for residents who feel afraid of approaching police officers.

To the question of what information undocumented families must provide to register children for school, and whether that information can fall into the hands of federal enforcement officers, Roberts said proof of residency is required for application. A birth certificate must be provided before enrolling for the child’s own protection.

Teachers, however, are not allowed to know anything about a child’s legal status. A student’s records are closely guarded.

“Every parent and every community member needs to know that whether it is your college application or public school district application ... they cannot just release that information to any agency without a subpoena, without correct request for records,” Roberts said. “We don’t ever, any agency, openly share with any other agency, particularly children's’ information.”

Saturday’s meeting was one of many efforts where the city worked to build bridges with the immigrant and refugee communities as well as the wider Hispanic and Latino communities. The city council approved a resolution last May in support of immigrants and refugees. They have been working closely with LUPEC — Latinos United Promoting Education and Civic Engagement — and formed their diversity commission. 

Still, city leaders acknowledged Ogden’s diverse groups often don’t have a voice in governance.

Caldwell said he’d like to see a bigger turnout at future meetings.

“As leaders in the community, we need to push this message to the people who weren’t here and weren’t willing to come,” he said. “We can put it out there, but if people don’t come, there’s not a lot of important dialogue that happens.”

The mayor noted he heard a lot of questions he commonly hears from the community about immigrant relationships with the city. 

“We have heard of a number of people who are afraid to leave the house, to put their kids in school, to go to the grocery store,” he said. “If they have a tail light out, they’re afraid they’ll get pulled over, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is going to rush in and drag them out. It’s really unfortunate we live in such a nice, inclusive community, but because of the national rhetoric, people are too afraid to go to the mailbox.”

Just this week, the Trump Administration rescinded an Obama-era policy for undocumented immigrants with a child who is a U.S. citizen or lawful resident. Arrests of undocumented immigrants are up by nearly 40 percent compared to this time last year, according to a report last month.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that, “most new cases filed in Immigration Court this fiscal year involve noncitizens charged by (the Department of Homeland Security) with committing an immigration violation rather than involved in any criminal activity.”

“I think as people watch the news, it’s really scary for a lot of people, and not just undocumented people,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of political anger out there ... these forums help get through some of that national rhetoric.” 

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiaoutside or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen.

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