Utah sheriffs decry ‘misleading’ ICE memo, call out Senate candidate Trent Staggs

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Sheriffs’ Association is accusing Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, a U.S. Senate candidate, of releasing a “naive and uninformed” statement in response to a federal memo purportedly designating Utah a “sanctuary state” for immigration.

The memo, issued by a local official for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May, appeared to designate Utah as a sanctuary state “due to terminations of intergovernmental service agreements” by several county sheriffs, though the agency later told KSL.com it had rescinded the memo.

“The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Salt Lake City Field Office maintains open and collaborative efforts with the state of Utah, along with the sheriff’s offices in Cache, Utah and Washington counties,” an ICE spokesperson told KSL.com on Friday. “ICE has rescinded a previous, notional memorandum from May 31, 2023, designating the state as a sanctuary jurisdiction. The state of Utah and ICE are proud to work collaboratively to ensure that we together are keeping communities safe.”

Staggs, who is running for the seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, posted a statement in response to the ICE memo on Thursday, criticizing state leaders and calling on Gov. Spencer Cox, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville (who is also running for the Senate seat), and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to “put aside agendas and consider the consequences of continuing down this path.”

“I was horrified to learn that the Salt Lake City Field Office … had to designate Utah earlier this year as a sanctuary state,” Staggs said. “Public service is a public trust to uphold the laws duly enacted. We must rectify all limitations and restrictions in Utah that impede ICE from enforcing our nation’s immigrations laws.”

On Friday, Mike Smith, Utah County sheriff and president of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, issued a scathing statement in response to Staggs, and called the original ICE memo “misinformation.”

“The Utah Sheriffs’ Association declares this memo to be misleading, reckless and damaging to any further interactions with ICE,” he said. “Additionally, we express our extreme disappointment in Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs for his naive and uninformed press release in support of ICE’s liberal agenda that blames state leaders for ICE’s failures. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Staggs responded by saying he’s “very disappointed by the name-calling and uncivil dialogue” in the statement from the sheriffs, which he said is “unbecoming for such a distinguished organization.”

“Not once did I place blame on the county sheriffs nor am I condoning the ridiculously liberal policies of this Biden administration that make a mockery of the rule of law,” he said. “My statement was one based on hours of dialogue with ICE and other officials that understand the issue. This was done in my capacity as a mayor and not at all as a political candidate.

“It’s unfortunate that the Sheriff’s Association has injected politics into their statement.”

Smith told KSL.com that the Utah County Sheriff’s Office terminated an agreement with ICE in 2016 — prior to his tenure — due to strict requirements ICE has in place for local law enforcement partners, including regulations “even down to just really silly things like what type of lotion (detainees) get.”

Cox, Adams and Wilson released a joint statement Friday in support of the sheriffs, saying they appreciated the public recall of the ICE memo.

“The border crisis, and the consequent increase in ICE detainees, represents a federal failure, not a state or local failure,” the statement said. “Utah’s cities and local law enforcement officials are under no obligation to serve as a backstop for longtime immigration failures at the federal level. We certainly want to work constructively with our federal partners, but when ICE requirements become too onerous, Utah’s sheriffs are completely justified in declining to sign agreements with ICE.”

“We are a state and a nation of immigrants, but laws must be followed to ensure the safety and well-being of those who choose to call our country home,” it continued. “Utah welcomes immigrants, and we require they use the proper channels, obey our laws and become contributing members of our communities.”

Carlos Trujillo, an immigration attorney, said Utah has never been a sanctuary state, and that officials in the state continue to work with ICE. According to the Salt Lake County Jail roster, several ICE detainees were being held there as of Friday morning.

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