Summit County police: local lawmen not participating in immigration enforcement
February 28, 2017
Rumors have been swirling around Summit County's immigrant community, particularly since last week when the Trump administration announced a broad expansion of immigration enforcement priorities and signaled a wider role for local law enforcement agencies.
Police and county officials said they have been getting reports of people grocery shopping at night for fear of being arrested by immigration agents, and there has even been talk of people being rounded up and questioned.
But local law enforcement's message is clear: There have not been any raids in Summit County, nor are local police likely to be involved in federal immigration enforcement any time soon.
"Essentially the stance we've taken is we will continue business as usual," Breckenridge police chief Dennis McLaughlin said. "We have no plans to get involved in immigration enforcement."
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official debunked reports of an immigration raid in Durango and said there have not been any major raids recently on Colorado's Western Slope.
"I reached out to ICE and was told that nothing has changed so far," FitzSimons said. "They go after criminals, people with deportation records, people that are dangerous to the community."
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An ICE spokesman said in an email that he couldn't comment on rumors of enforcement operations in Colorado but wrote, "Every day, as part of routine operations, ICE officers target and arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation's immigration laws."
Part of the policy overhaul — outlined in memos from the Department of Homeland Security but not yet finalized — would significantly broaden the number of people who are prioritized for deportation.
FitzSimons said that his department does not honor ICE detainers, which are requests for local law enforcement to hold people in jail longer when they're suspected of being in the country illegally.
A judge typically doesn't sign those detainers, and they haven't held up in court. ICE sent only one detainer to the Summit County Jail last year, down from a peak of 39 in 2010, according to ICE data.
FitzSimons said that information on an inmate's legal status is automatically sent to multiple criminal justice databases during the fingerprinting and booking process.
Trump's new orders would bring back the Secure Communities program, which scans those databases to find targets for deportation. That Obama-era policy was shelved after meeting resistance from some cities that took issue with immigrants being deported after arrests for minor violations.
"If we have a suspect with criminal charges who is set to be released and they have an ICE detainer, we will notify ICE of the release date and time as a courtesy," FitzSimons said. "But they never get up here."
FitzSimons said that his office has a healthy working relationship with immigration officials, but that picking detainees up after they're released from the jail doesn't seem to be a priority for them.
Since local police don't have the authority or jurisdiction to detain undocumented immigrants unless they commit a crime, only an ICE agent could arrest them after they're released from jail for whatever crime they committed. (Being in the country without documentation is a civil, rather than criminal, offense).
Another aspect of the policy change would seek to change that by reinvigorating a program called 287(g), which trains and deputizes local cops for participation in immigration enforcement.
Summit County's police forces aren't too eager to participate, chiefs said, citing small forces that can't afford to have officers spending weeks getting training from ICE or participating in raids.
"At the Silverthorne police department we have about 15 cops," said police chief John Minor. "We're not the immigration police because one, we're not federally deputized and two, we just don't have the time."
That doesn't mean that Silverthorne is a "sanctuary city," Minor said: If a person has a federal warrant signed by a judge, his department would enforce it — just not the ICE detainers that have been ruled unenforceable under the state constitution.
Minor, McLaughlin and FitzSimons said that immigration enforcement was not currently a priority in their departments, but cautioned that more federal action could change that.
"We just need to focus on what's happening, and anything can happen with an executive order," FitzSimons said. "Right now, local Summit County law enforcement is not working with ICE."
Minor said that while his deputies occasionally participated in sweeps with ICE when he served as sheriff, those specifically targeted known gang members and violent offenders.
Those sweeps haven't happened in years, Minor said.
Both he and McLaughlin indicated that pursuing immigration enforcement at the local level could be detrimental to their community policing efforts, making undocumented residents leery of reporting crimes or cooperating with police.
"A lot of these folks are being victimized," Minor said. "So a lot of what we do is focused on building trust so that when they are victims of crimes, they aren't afraid to come to us."