There has been a lot of talk this legislative session about immigration reform. I don't think anyone would dispute that our immigration system is broken and deeply flawed, but there is quite a bit of disagreement about how to fix it, who should fix it and what to do next.
The easy part of government is to identify the problem -- the hard part is to identify a solution. Whether you agree or disagree with the various immigration reform bills proposed this year, one needs to respect the individuals that have dedicated their time to generating possible solutions. It isn't an easy job to imagine something better and then draft laws to make it so.
Many of the illegal immigrants that make their way to our state come with a desire to work, but not all do. Some come with more nefarious purposes in mind. The various immigration bills proposed this year all address the problem from a different perspective, but I believe that tackling it from the criminal element perspective offers the best solution. In 2009, I sponsored an immigration bill that took a hard stance on the crime committed by illegal immigrants.
The bill created a multi-agency strike force to combat violent criminal offenses related to illegal immigration. At the time the bill was passed, it was much like the slate of immigration bills proposed this year; one in a wide range of possible ideas meant to tackle a delicate and difficult problem. Two years later, we can now see that this idea has proven to be an effective tool and one the state can easily employ.
When we crafted this bill, our idea was to go after the worst of the worst: the people who were entering our country illegally for the purpose of selling drugs, committing identity theft, human trafficking and committing violent crimes.
I worked together with the Utah Attorney General's Office to create the first SECURE Strike Force to make our communities safer. In less than two years, the strike force has defied all expectations by opening 250 criminal cases, making 146 arrests which have resulted in 61 state and federal felony convictions with several cases still making their way through the court system.!
Just last week, the strike force made two major busts dealing with a piracy ring. Police arrested ten illegal aliens and seized more than 29,000 pirated CDs and DVDs. The nine-month investigation seized discs worth over $345,000 and two of the men arrested face charges of aggravated re-entry into the country. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, piracy causes $12.5 billion in losses to the U.S. economy each year and results in the loss of 70,000 jobs.
My hope for future immigration bills is that they build on the results we are seeing from the strike force bill.
One of the many worries about immigration reform is that some pieces of legislation might make immigrant communities afraid of police and therefore even more vulnerable to abuse. Since the strike force targets only serious felony offenses, it has gained the respect and cooperation of members of the Hispanic community because they know that their neighborhoods are safer when you take felons off the streets.
There is an active public policy debate about whether the states should handle illegal immigration in the face of federal inaction, but the criminal issue is very much in the jurisdiction of the states and something we can and should tackle for the good of Utah.
As we evaluate the immigration bills before us this year, I will be looking for proposals that are similar to the strike force bill that will provide results, can immediately be implemented, and will take more undocumented immigrants with criminal intent off our streets.
Rep. Brad Dee is the majority leader in the Utah State House of Representatives. He represents House District 11, which covers portions of Davis and Weber counties.