Feds fail to act on soaring reports of foreign-born in jail
Rocky Mountain News
DENVER (AP) ” Police agencies in Colorado turned over the names of at least 15,000 suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities during the second half of last year. Their offenses ranged from minor infractions to first-degree felonies but each referral was in compliance with a new state law designed to get tough on illegal immigration.
Law enforcement officials, however, debate whether the new law is having its intended effect.
They said they doubt the enhanced reporting has led to any more deportations of criminal illegal immigrants.
“I still sense that there is simply no infrastructure in the federal system in place to actually do anything with these undocumented aliens beyond the occasional, token deportations,” said Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates.
The law, enacted by the legislature in 2006 as part of a statewide crackdown on illegal immigration, required all cities and counties to report any suspected illegal immigrants arrested or cited for crimes to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The only exceptions are citations for minor traffic tickets and for domestic violence defendants until their cases are prosecuted.
The law also required law enforcement agencies to report by March each year how many people they referred to ICE the previous year.
Reports on file with state agencies and a Rocky Mountain News survey of police agencies show more than 15,000 people arrested or cited in Colorado between June and December 2006 were referred to ICE for investigation. The federal agency is responsible for determining the legal status of those arrested and whether to try to remove or deport them from the United States.
“Wow, that’s a significant number,” said state Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, author of the law.
The actual numbers of those reported are probably higher. Confusion over where to file the reports meant that filings for some cities and counties were not readily available.
Arapahoe County, which also tracked reports for the city of Centennial, had the most referrals, 2,167.
Undersheriff Mark Campbell said the county informs ICE about anyone in the jail who is foreign born or they suspect is foreign born.
“For example, a guy who comes in and speaks only Russian, but says he was born in Denver,” Campbell said.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said most counties gave ICE the names of anyone booked into the county jail born outside the U.S. The county submitted 1,548 names to ICE, the third highest in Colorado.
“We are not attempting to determine people’s immigration status,” Pelle said.
“Nobody has the time or training to try and sort it out.”
Pelle estimated ICE put holds or detainers on 12 to 24 of the 1,548 people reported, about the same as in previous years.
Other jurisdictions were more selective.
El Paso County only reported to the state the number of immigrants ICE determined were in Colorado illegally, with holds for possible deportation, said Sheriff Terry Maketa.
That number totaled 471 last year, or about a third the number Boulder County eported.
“I thought the original intent of the legislation was determining the extent of illegal aliens, not foreign-born nationals,” Maketa said.
The law also applied to suspected illegal immigrants who are not jailed, but issued summonses to appear in court for misdemeanors.
Cities varied considerably on how many names they reported for people cited for misdemeanors.
Aurora submitted the names of 1,194 people to ICE, of which 433 were given summons to appear in court as opposed to being jailed.
“It’s a category of misdemeanors and lesser offenses,” Oates said.
By contrast, only 74 of the 1,351 names submitted to ICE by Denver were not jailed.
Fort Collins reported one person who’d been issued a summons and Grand Junction reported none.
Carl Rusnok, ICE spokesman, said the agency doesn’t track all arrestees referred to it, or the number of holds placed on suspected illegal immigrants in Colorado jails.
However, he said, the agency does track computerized referrals from Colorado law enforcement agencies to its support center in Vermont.
Those figures show Colorado referrals skyrocketing ” in keeping with the 2006 law ” while automatic holds placed by the ICE center are stagnant.
This federal fiscal year, Colorado police agencies are on pace to refer almost 19,000 potential illegal immigrants to ICE, a 30 percent increase from last year and a 71 percent increase from two years ago, according to figures provided by Rusnok.
However, the ICE support center only placed holds on 386 people last fiscal year, or one hold per every 38 referrals.
This fiscal year, the number is even smaller, with a federal immigration hold being placed on one of every 56 referrals from Colorado law enforcement agencies.
The hold statistics also include detainers placed by ICE agents who visit county jails weekly in Colorado, Rusnok said.
Those vary by county. Larimer County officials said ICE placed holds on about one in five people it referred to the agency, while Denver estimated it had seven to 12 holds placed on inmates a week.
Police officials said ICE agents in Colorado simply can’t keep up with all the referrals.
The town of Lakeside, population 20, turned over 24 names to ICE.
Commander David Bell said all 24, cited for misdemeanors, told Lakeside police they were in the U.S. illegally, but ICE did not pick any of them up.
They were released on summonses to appear in court and their names forwarded to ICE, Bell said.
“ICE won’t come to get them,” Bell said.
“Our frustration is we stopped them, we know they are illegal, they admit to us they are illegal, but ICE won’t do anything.”
Boulder County’s Pelle said ICE agents typically make their top priority any illegal immigrants who previously had been deported or ordered out of the U.S. and returned.
Police officials said one positive change is that ICE agents now visit county jails several times a week to see who they want to detain for deportation.
“We’re very heartened that ICE took that step,” Oates said.
Wiens, meanwhile, said he will use the information on the referrals to revise the state law.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said.
“Now, we can quantify and prove that ICE is not doing its job.”