Strike force stops major crime with immigrants' help
Law enforcement » Group's relationship with undocumented community helps stop felony offenders.
By Sheena McFarland
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
Updated:01/09/2010 05:36:45 PM MST
When Attorney General Mark Shurtleff heard that a Utah law enforcement officer allegedly had been gunned down by an undocumented immigrant, he sent members of his SECURE Strike Force to aid in the manhunt.
The slaying of Millard County sheriff's Deputy Josie Fox is the first homicide investigation for the strike force, which focuses on felony crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. But in about two months since six investigators were hired and trained, they have filed 80 cases and assisted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau in the arrest of 76 people during a gang-busting operation.
"It's gone really well, and it's not just in terms of numbers of arrests and search warrants," said Ken Wallentine, chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General's Office.
The strike force has investigated cases including document mills and non-certified dentists practicing out of their basements.
Many of the tips have come from people in the Latino community, both documented and undocumented.
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But some say earning the trust of the community has come at too high a price.
Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, thinks the strike force is misdirected in going after only the higher-level criminals.
"If you take the petty crime off the street, then the bigger crime stops, too," Mortensen said. "If you arrest people who are using forged documentation, then the false-identity document dealers wouldn't have any clients."
He says if more local law enforcement officers were cross-deputized as immigration agents, maybe Roberto Miramontes Roman, the man charged with shooting and killing Deputy Fox, would have been caught and jailed for criminal re-entry into the country after he was deported twice previously.
"You can't just keep looking at document mills and the like," Mortensen said. "It's got to be all levels of crime to put a dent in criminal activity."
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Types of cases the SECURE Strike Force has investigated
Document mills, which often lead to gun- and drug-dealing charges
Non-certified dentists, who often prey upon uninsured undocumented immigrants, and have few skills and low sanitation
Car dealerships, which charged up to 35 percent in interest and would repossess and resell the car after the buyer defaulted
Gang cases, including playing a part in 76 arrests with federal immigration agents