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Enforcement and Removal
11/18/2016

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Innovation and dedication keys to success for ERO Salt Lake City

SLC Deportation Officer standing before Utah State Capitol.
SLC Deportation Officers standing before Stratosphere and Las Vegas Strip.
SLC AFOD Michael Bernacke (left) and SDDO Jhonny Benavides (correct spelling, right) in field office hold room after making Mobile Criminal Alien Team arrest.

Not every field office is responsible for almost half a million square miles, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ERO) Salt Lake City, Utah Field Office is – 426,272 square miles across four states to be exact.

Those miles are spread out over Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Montana and the challenges of the geographically dispersed Area of Responsibility (AOR) require quick thinking, innovative methods and precise organization. ERO Salt Lake City is up to the task.

The office must deal with some unique circumstances. For example, their AOR includes the Canadian border to the north and approaches the Mexican border to the south, and falls within two different circuit court jurisdictions.

ERO Salt Lake City has 159 full-time employees and sub-offices in Ogden, Utah; Provo, Utah; St. George, Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; Reno, Nevada; Helena, Montana; Billings, Montana; Shelby, Montana; Boise, Idaho; Idaho Falls, Idaho and Twin Falls, Idaho. The leadership team works out of the main Salt Lake City office and the larger sub-offices.

“Although operations and mission planning are guided by the main field office, the sub-offices operate with a certain degree of autonomy because of the great distances between locations,” said Acting Field Office Director (Acting FOD) Todd McWhorter.

It may be surprising to some that the AOR has a heavy caseload of priority aliens. This year, ERO Salt Lake City carried out two Priority Enforcement and Removal Program Surge (PERPS) enforcement operations that resulted in the arrest of 320 priority aliens. The Las Vegas sub-office also conducted an operation resulting in 87 arrests.

ERO Salt Lake City’s ability to form strong partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and organizations is one of its biggest successes. In addition to law enforcement agencies honoring detainers and requests for notification, in 2016, the Salt Lake City office increased its law enforcement liaison partnerships from 2 to 12, working with U.S. Marshals, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The Salt Lake City office has a rapport with these partners to such an extent that they do not hesitate to reach out for assistance. “They call us and our dedicated deportation officers respond to any area, at any time, of day or night. It supports local law enforcement and takes criminals off the street,” said Assistant Field Office Director (AFOD) Michael Bernacke.

ERO Salt Lake City has four designated “At-Large” teams that serve as liaison with task forces as needed in addition to their regular duties. Before the partnerships, the potential existed for ERO to miss aliens released during off hours.

However, with the office’s expanded liaison activities, agencies and local law enforcement contact ERO anytime. AFOD Bernacke said it has taken ERO Salt Lake City to the next level.

The Salt Lake City office recently implemented internal procedures to facilitate case review for federal interest designation for individuals encountered in jails and prisons. The increased oversight gives officers the opportunity to take enforcement action against those who are public safety threats before they are released from custody and have the opportunity to re-offend.

Another forward thinking initiative of the office is the increased emphasis on the intelligence program. ERO Salt Lake City increased its number of intelligence officers from one to seven trained officers working intelligence throughout the AOR. “The officers are cultivating more potential intelligence leads than ever before especially within the detainee populations,” said AFOD Bernacke. The office is also sharing gained intelligence with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence. Recent involvement with Honduran heroin trafficking has led to actionable intelligence that the office was able to communicate to local law enforcement.

Acting FOD McWhorter and AFOD Bernacke agree that the strong work ethic of their officers is what makes ERO Salt Lake City’s innovation possible: “We have one of the most dedicated officer corps in the entire county. The women and men here really own their work, from the arrest phase to removal. Every Deportation Officer is willing to pick up the phone after hours and get the job done. Our officer’s success is largely due to the fact that from a staffing perspective, we are a small AOR and are forced to use our resources efficiently and effectively. Because of this, our officers tend to become proficient in a greater number of areas,” said Acting FOD McWhorter.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/21/2016