Arrested Eagle County illegal aliens at mercy of feds
EAGLE COUNTY – Illegal immigrants arrested in Eagle County for minor infractions often find themselves with a get-out-of-deportation free card because federal authorities choose to look the other way.”Mostly ICE(Immigration and Customs Enforcement) focuses on deporting really bad people – violent offenders, sexual assault cases or drugs,” Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said. “They’re not really concerned if we bring someone in on a minor offense.”All valley law enforcement agencies funnel arrested illegal immigrants into the county jail. Jail officials pass on information about the illegal immigrant’s offense to the federal immigration enforcement agency.Agents choose who to bring before an immigration judge for removal proceedings. Only felons are usually chosen, Hoy said.According to the ICE Web site, the agency’s duties include ” identifying and removing all high-risk illegal alien fugitives and absconders; ensuring that those aliens who have already been identified as criminals are expeditiously removed.”When ICE chooses an illegal immigrant, the county jail places an immigration hold on the offender. As of Dec. 9, 20 of 63 Eagle County inmates, or 32 percent, had immigration holds. Most are Hispanic, said Capt. Bill Kaufman, jail administrator.”We usually go 25 to 33 percent,” Kaufman said. “The inmate population is often, if not all the time, a mirror of our community.”When a person on hold finishes their time at the county jail, ICE agents pick them up and transport them to Denver.Each inmate costs taxpayers money to clothe, house, feed and provide medical services to, among other costs. Where it hits Kaufman is in bed space.”We’re pushing for the county to give us more bed space,” Kaufman said. “If those 20 people weren’t here, I wouldn’t need it.”On the county level, officials’ hands are tied because no local or state laws exist to deport illegal aliens, Hoy said.”We have no way of dealing with it,” Hoy said. “We can’t put them on a bus and send them down to the Arizona border.” Gypsum resident Marty Lich, a self-proclaimed independent researcher, said local law enforcement need a database of arrested illegal immigrants and aliases to track their activities and so police are aware of them.”Local law enforcement feels it’s the federal government’s responsibility, not theirs,” Lich said. “I understand they don’t want to hold them or ICE doesn’t want to come pick them up for what they consider minor violations.”Illegal immigrant safety and solutionsHoy said illegal immigrants shouldn’t be afraid to call police.”We want them to know they can still call us for their own safety,” he said. “We can’t arrest them anyway. We won’t pull them into jail because they’ve had the trust in us to call.”Solving the illegal immigrant problem is complicated, Hoy said.”If I had that answer, I’d run for the senate,” he said.Still, Hoy said deporting illegal immigrants starts with enforcement. But rounding up illegals could mean economic impacts for the community and businesses that employ illegal immigrants, Hoy said.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org.