The Post editorial: City ICE plan goes too far
Since President Donald Trump took office promising to crack down on illegal immigration, Denver city officials — from Mayor Michael Hancock on down — have been increasingly aggressive in trying to protect residents here illegally.
We’ve generally been supportive of those efforts. Most recently we backed the successful passage of reforms to city rules that make it less likely that low-level offenders attract attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Detractors will say such stances are soft-headed and obstructionist. The intent is to keep the peace. Heightened deportation efforts among vulnerable individuals and families keep victims and witnesses of crime silent, which is hardly a dynamic responsible police departments would relish.
That said, a new proposal by two City Council members goes too far and would put the public at risk.
As reported by The Denver Post’s Noelle Phillips, Robin Kniech, who represents the city at large, and Paul Lopez, who represents District 3, have drafted a proposed ordinance that would stop jailers from cooperating with ICE agents in two significant ways. We hope fellow council members step off the anti-Trump bandwagon long enough to fully consider the implications.
Presently, Denver jailers have a strained but functioning — or, at least, near-functioning — relationship with ICE agents. Federal agents visit the jail to conduct interviews with suspects held there. Jailers try to let ICE know when inmates that their agents wish to hold are to be released. Yes, that’s been a botched process, as we’ll see, but it’s a process that ought to be fixed, not further complicated.
The council members’ proposed fix would break the already strained cooperation by making notification against city law except in the most egregious cases, like those where a would-be defendant has already been convicted of serious violent crimes within the last seven years, convicted of crimes involving gang members, or is a terrorism suspect.
Kniech and Lopez also would bar jailhouse interviews by ICE agents beyond phone or video calls. Yes, such calls are a common practice, but skilled interviewers know inperson meetings are much more useful. It would be a shame to scrap this tool.
You can bet good money that approval by the full council would grant legitimacy to critics — including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who call Denver a sanctuary city.
An inescapable and alarming fact looming in the background is that the Denver jail has released bad actors ICE wanted to hold. Among them, Ever Valles, now charged with first-degree murder and robbery, and Norlan Estrada-Reyes, accused of a hit-and-run that cut short the life of a young Denver attorney.
Valles had been charged but not convicted of possessing a weapon, car theft and eluding. Federal agents say he is a known gang member. Estrada-Reyes’ criminal background was sparse beyond illegal re-entry after deportation. When released, he had been in on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Kniech and Lopez make many fine arguments in pressing the issue. It’s not Denver’s responsibility to enforce federal immigration law. They are right that courts have found it unconstitutional for local jailers to hold those ICE wants for immigration violations once they are found innocent, make bail or are otherwise cleared and released. They are right to want to codify other practices meant to protect those here illegally with but minor offenses.
But on these two points, this proposed ordinance goes too far. The members of The Denver Post’s editorial board are William Dean Singleton, chairman; Mac Tully, CEO and publisher; Chuck Plunkett, editor of the editorial pages; Megan Schrader, editorial writer; and Cohen Peart, opinion editor.