Cox disputes ICE memo, sheriffs call out Trent Staggs for ‘uninformed’ statement

Oct 6, 2023, 9:00 PM

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs says he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2024. "Right now, Washington is...

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs poses for a photo in Taylorsville, Utah, on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Staggs announced Tuesday, May 23, 2023, a bid for Mitt Romney's U.S. Senate seat. (Laura Seitz/The Deseret News via AP)

(Laura Seitz/The Deseret News via AP)

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

Staggs, who is running for the seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, posted a statement in response to a memo from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from May 2023.

The internal memo he speaks of was issued by a local official for ICE. The memo appeared to designate Utah as a sanctuary state “due to terminations of intergovernmental service agreements” by several county sheriffs.

He criticized state leaders and claimed, “Over two-thirds of arrested illegal immigrants last fiscal year were released back into our neighborhoods due to lack of cooperation [with ICE] from local authorities.” 

Utah County Sheriff and President of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association Mike Smith flatly disputed the claims. 

“It’s very misleading, very damaging to local law enforcement and leaves out the truth,” he said.

Utah is not a sanctuary state

Immigration Lawyer Carlos Trujillo works closely with immigrants from all walks of life. He explained to KSL that the claims made by Staggs are fundamentally untrue.

“If the local government comes in contact with a person who does not have any status and is deportable, ICE will be let know about this person so they can pick him up and start a procedure of deportation. Utah has that system,” he said. 

Trujillo added that if Utah was a sanctuary state, there wouldn’t be any ‘Federal detainees’ in local prisons. 

“I have current cases, where people, with some state criminal issues, are being held under what is called an ICE hold, because the authorities notified ICE,” Trujillo said. “These people are not to be released until it takes care of them.”

KSL read through the Salt Lake County Jail roster for Friday, Oct. 6, and found at least four people are being held by ICE.

Federal Detainees being held in Salt Lake County (photo credit: Salt Lake County Jail)

State leaders respond to Staggs

Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President J. Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson addressed Stagg’s comments stating “Utah has never been a sanctuary state, nor has any of our cities”.

Shortly after, ICE released a public statement redacting the memo that inspired the explosive claims from Staggs.   

“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. “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 disappointed in state leaders response

Staggs responded by saying he’s “very disappointed by the name-calling and uncivil dialogue” from the sheriffs. Staggs said it 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. I reaffirm my ask that our state leaders will back up our county sheriffs to ensure they have the resources and necessary protections they need.”

Smith told KSL that the Utah County Sheriff’s Office terminated an agreement with ICE in 2016 — prior to his tenure — due to strict detainment 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.” 

Essentially, some counties in Utah do not have the resources to hold ICE detainee’s for long periods of time due to the stringent regulations ICE requires. 

If the prisoners don’t have local charges against them, they are transported to places like Nevada or Colorado who have better resources. 

Sheriff Smith emphasized that they are not released back onto the street. 

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Cox disputes ICE memo, sheriffs call out Trent Staggs for ‘uninformed’ statement