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Local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office might come soon

After a year of pressuring the federal government, El Paso County officials are one step closer to having an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Colorado Springs.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) attached language to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that would allow the department to start researching the cost and the need for an ICE office in Colorado Springs.

The amendment requires Homeland Security to report the costs of the office to Congress by February 2007.

"I think putting the language in shows a level of commitment, and it is a building block toward achieving the ultimate goal," says El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. "However, it still has a long way to go."

If the bill passes and Homeland Security agrees that an office is needed, Maketa estimates it could take an additional 18 months for it to be established in Colorado Springs.

Allard's press secretary, Carolyn Williams, says that if successful, the bill will "force the Department of Homeland Security into doing a serious study."

"It is saying Senator Allard believes that this is an issue, and he would like them to start the process," she says. "He is trying to push it along."

Maketa and County Commissioner Jim Bensberg had urged Allard to bring Colorado Springs' immigration issues to Washington last August.

ICE officers in Denver and Pueblo currently patrol illegal immigration in Colorado Springs. But Maketa says an office in El Paso County would allow officers from the three cities to work together to close loopholes in addressing immigrant crime. An ICE office would also help relieve overcrowding in the county prison, he says. Nearly 100 undocumented immigrants are currently serving time in the county jail.

"I would like to free up a hundred beds," Maketa says.

ICE officers can apprehend any undocumented immigrant, but they typically prioritize those who have committed crimes in the United States.

Maketa expects that an ICE office in Colorado Springs would address some of the methamphetamine trafficking that the county has endured. He estimates that county officials have confiscated over 200 pounds of the drug over the past year. Eighty percent of that, he says, came from Mexico.

naomi@csindy.com

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