ICE could get a cold shoulder
Denver considers a plan to no longer notify feds when releasing inmates.
Under a proposal introduced Wednesday by two Denver City Council members, the Sheriff Department no longer would send notification to federal authorities when an inmate wanted on an immigration detainer is about to be released from jail.
The change could elevate an ongoing conflict between the sheriff’s department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The two agencies have butted heads this year over a system that allows deputies to release from jail, with little notice, people ICE wants to detain.
But two City Council members who introduced a proposed Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act said Denver does not need to help federal agents do their jobs.
“Their job is to follow up on it as to how they see fit,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said. “The notification piece crosses that line. It gets us involved in helping.”
Kniech and Councilman Paul Lopez introduced the four-point proposal during a committee meeting. For the most part, the proposal would codify in a city ordinance policies and practices that already are in place.
The two council members said they have heard many stories about residents living in fear because of increased federal immigration enforcement and people who are in the country illegally who are afraid to attend court hearings, call 911, take their children to school or show up for medical appointments.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people still living in fear,” Lopez said. “It absolutely is unacceptable. We hope to clarify what our city already is doing and fill in those gaps.”
Lopez and Kniech explained the proposal to colleagues and a room full of community activists. They pitched the ideas as a public safety issue, saying they do not want policies to erode the relationships between police and the public.
Thirteen people from various community organizations and churches spoke in favor of the enforcement priorities act.
After a public hearing, council members discussed the ideas behind closed doors with the city attorney’s staff. They hope to begin the formal process of making it a law on Aug. 2.
Aside from ending Denver’s cooperation on release notifications, the proposal would:
• Prohibit the Sheriff Department from honoring detainer requests, which ask jails to hold inmates for an additional 48 hours for ICE agents. Denver would only hold inmates if there is an arrest warrant issued by a judge or magistrate.
• Prohibit employees, including police officers, from asking people about their immigration status.
• Ban the use of city money or resources to assist in immigration enforcement actions.
Already, three of the four proposals are in practice. An ordinance would make them official, and give the city the right to discipline employees who violate the laws.
For now, the sheriff’s department notifies ICE of an inmate’s pending release if ICE has an immigration detainer and asks for notification. But the department will not hold inmates beyond their release time specifically so agents can pick them up. That means ICE sometimes receives notice just hours before an inmate is ready to leave jail.
That policy has led to ongoing tension between the sheriff’s department and the ICE field office.
The latest flap involves Ricardo Lopez Vera, an inmate who was accused of killing a fellow inmate in a July 10 fight at the Downtown Detention Center. Lopez Vera was not charged in connection with the death after the Denver District Attorney’s Office determined he and William Anderson engaged in mutual combat.
Lopez Vera was being held on warrants from Adams, Denver and Arapahoe counties, but he posted bond. The sheriff’s department notified ICE of Lopez Vera’s pending release, but the inmate was taken to Denver Health Medical Center because of medical issues and ultimately was released from there on July 12.
The two agencies have released dueling public state- ments, each disputing the other’s timeline of how Lopez Vera’s release unfolded. On Tuesday, ICE agents apprehended Lopez Vera, and he is in custody pending a hearing before a federal immigration judge, according to an ICE statement.
The sheriff’s department also has taken heat for releasing Ever Valles in December even though he had an immigration detainer. Valles is charged with firstdegree murder and robbery in connection with a shooting death in February at a light rail station.
And in October, Norlan Estrada-Reyes, who had been deported and returned to the United States illegally, was accused of killing a young Denver lawyer in a hit-and-run. Estrada-Reyes had been released from the Denver jail in 2013 before ICE agents could pick him up, and ICE was never informed when he was detained on a 2014 charge. He pleaded guilty in February to illegally re-entering the United States.
Lopez and Kniech said Denver would continue to notify ICE and hold people if agents have an arrest warrant issued by a judge or magistrate.
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for Numbers USA, a group that advocates for reducing the number of people living in the country illegally, took issue with the proposed policy regarding ICE notification.
“If there is a mandatory detainer request, we believe they do have to comply,” he said.
Lopez and Kniech said nothing in their proposal would violate federal immigration laws, and they insisted the proposal would not push the city further toward so-called sanctuary city status.