Van Beek: ICE, the sheriff’s role and the Immigrant Advisory Council (column) |

Van Beek: ICE, the sheriff’s role and the Immigrant Advisory Council (column)

James van Beek

With the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests, questions have arisen regarding the role of the sheriff and local police on immigration. There is a distinct separation of responsibilities within each agency, with the role of local law enforcement being to secure the safety of the residents in its jurisdiction. That safety extends to all residents, as well as long- and short-term visitors to our community.

ICE’s focus is in removing threats on a federal level. Those arrested have a criminal and, often, violet history, posing a danger to all. The greatest threat is to our Hispanic communities, where criminals feel like they can terrorize with impunity. Something had to be done.

The Immigrant Advisory Council was the brainchild of Catholic Charities, an organization close to the Hispanic community and whose values welcome all beliefs. The Sheriff’s Office and the chiefs of police for Vail, Avon, Eagle and Basalt considered this to be an innovative bridge to those who might normally fear law enforcement. Other agencies also recognized the value in this alignment, including Eagle County Schools, the Salvation Army, Bright Future Foundation, YouthPower365, Eagle County Victim Services, county agencies and other private organizations.

It must be noted that while much attention is given to those from countries south of our border, the immigrant community consists of a wider range of nations, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Ivory Coast, Asia and other areas, where a return may be problematic or dangerous. The Immigrant Advisory Council works with them all. Victims feel safe knowing they will be protected, and everyone in the community benefits by the removal of criminals from our neighborhoods.

The council is also involved with other related needs, including training programs, advisory roles, language classes, volunteer interpreters and charitable endeavors. The ability to reach across barriers and establish trust by helping those facing trauma or hardship is the bond that unites all members.

Recently, there was a vicious attack by a Hispanic-American from Texas. The source of his quick capture came from an undocumented resident who was appalled by the crime and wanted to protect others from further attacks. She might never have contacted authorities if she feared that her residency status would be in danger. The connection to the Immigrant Advisory Council made the contact smooth. This type of community involvement saves critical time in capturing violent offenders.

Criminals bet on the silence of those who are undocumented, allowing them to dominate neighborhoods by instilling fear through violence and illegal activities. The council creates a direct line to law enforcement, protecting those in need.

This is not the same as establishing sanctuary city status, as local law enforcement will not interfere with ICE doing their job, but there is a distinct line between their job and that of local law enforcement.

ICE’s mission “enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety.” They spontaneously review arrest records, focusing on violent and repeat offenders who endanger our nation. Others are not on their radar. The sheriff’s jurisdiction is limited to securing the safety of Eagle County. The council assists by creating an environment of trust to protect all communities.

The Immigrant Advisory Council is the 2013 winner of the national L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award. The council was honored for helping reduce crime, increasing community trust, advancing civil rights and promoting a strong and peaceful immigrant community, while upholding enforcement laws. This was achieved by developing innovative and collaborative partnerships.

In Eagle County, the council supports many community-based programs, including the Hispanic Police Academy, an annual coat drive in September and October, holiday food drives and workshops on culture and immigration laws and encourages shared community activities. The Sheriff’s Office is committed to building bridges of understanding amongst all residents. Together, we are truly building a safer Eagle County.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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