Immigration jail rules upset Colo. GOP
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Some Colorado Republican lawmakers are warning that federal rules for county jails could prevent local authorities from helping crack down on illegal immigration and lead to a “catch and release” practice.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped housing federal suspects in the Mesa County jail this week, three months after deciding not to send detainees to the Garfield County jail. It said conditions and tactics at the jails didn’t meet federal standards.
ICE said Friday it is willing to again send detainees to Garfield County, but it wasn’t immediately clear if that would happen.
For now, that means Western Colorado has fewer places to detain suspected illegal immigrants, and the nearest approved jails are several hours away, state Rep. Steven King, R-Grand Junction, said Friday.
The Colorado State Patrol says its new illegal-immigration unit has been able to work around the restrictions, but King said that’s not a good use of tax dollars. He said ICE should be more cooperative.
“The intent is to enforce both state and federal law as it relates to immigration,” King said. “I think that now that system needs some attention by leaders.”
King and 20 other Colorado GOP lawmakers wrote President Bush about the issue on Wednesday. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., has asked ICE to review its cooperation with local authorities.
So far, the only instance of a “catch and release” arrest that the ICE critics cite was in July when the State Patrol’s brand new immigration unit detained 18 suspected illegal immigrants near the Utah border.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the 18 were released because of a lack of jail beds. ICE had stopped using the Garfield County jail earlier that month, but Rusnok would not comment on whether that figured into the decision to release the 18.
The jail is in Glenwood Springs, about 90 miles from the Utah border.
ICE stopped using the jail because its deputies were equipped with stun guns, and ICE policy discourages the use of such weapons.
Rusnok said ICE is now reviewing its stun-gun policy, and because of that, the Garfield jail could house federal immigration suspects again if officials there wanted to.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, who was traveling, didn’t immediately return a message.
ICE stopped using the Mesa County jail in Grand Junction this week because federal immigration suspects were housed on cots in a large jail gymnasium jail, rather than segregated by the severity of the charges against them, and because they did not have access to phone calls.
Sheriff Stan Hilkey said that was because the federal suspects were held no more than 72 hours, and many for less than 24 hours, and he did not think segregation or access to a phone were necessary for such a short stay.
Hilkey said jail inmates usually aren’t allowed to place calls when they are about to be transported to prevent them from letting anyone outside know about the plans.
If the county jails Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, about 75 miles to the west, remain off-limits, the nearest ICE-approved lockups are the Moffat County jail in Craig and the Park County Jail in Fairplay. Each is more than 100 miles from Grand Junction.
Hilkey said that makes it harder, but not impossible, for ICE agents to hold suspected illegal immigrants.
“My sense is there are a lot of good, commonsense ICE people that will do everything they can to make it work,” Hilkey said. “They’re carrying an impossible message from policy people that make it so difficult.”
Lance Clem of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, said the patrol’s immigration unit can take suspects to ICE-approved jails or to ICE’s own facility in metro Denver using its six vans.
Clem said most of the 3,750 vehicles stopped by the unit in its first three months weren’t holding illegal immigrants anyway, and most of the people the unit arrested faced state charges.
Suspects facing state charges, including the new crimes of human trafficking and smuggling aimed at catching illegal immigrants and those paid to transport them, can be taken to any jail, not just those with agreements with ICE, he said.