Immigration is not a local law enforcement duty 

‘Rosalina,” who asked us not to use her real name, left Honduras when she was 14 years old. Her ailing mother packed their things, and led them through Mexico and over the Texas border. Unfortunately, Rosalina’s mother’s sickness escalated soon after, and she died, leaving Rosalina with her adult brother and sister in the United States. Rosalina, who moved to Colorado Springs a few years after her mother’s death, has been in this country for more than 20 years.

She works seven days a week, pays her taxes, has bought her own home and does her best to be a good citizen. But with immigration reform imminent and the announcement of President Donald Trump’s 70-point immigration crackdown plan, deportation has been on the forefront of Rosalina’s mind. She says that if she were to be deported: “The moment I step off the plane at the airport, I am a target. The criminals there think that because I am coming from the U.S. I am loaded with money.”

But Rosalina can’t focus on that. She has to keep going and help her community. As part of immigrant rights organization Grupo Esperanza de Colorado Springs, she organizes resources, conducts “know your rights” trainings, and joins local churches in their advocacy.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014 the number of undocumented immigrants in Colorado numbered about 200,000, 3.8 percent of the population. Undocumented immigrants are our neighbors, brothers and sisters. They invest their money in our economy through federal and local taxes (even without the promise of Social Security benefits). Often, they work in jobs that Americans don’t want, where they are underpaid and mistreated.

And we rely on immigrants to help build a safer city. Because there is so little trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, many crimes go unreported. In 2012, Claudia Valdez-Sandoval, a Denver mother of three, called police because her husband was assaulting her. She was then arrested on a domestic violence charge. Though her husband admitted he was the aggressor, Arapahoe County law enforcement detained her for three days at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while they investigated her immigration status. Why would a law-abiding immigrant want to work with the police with this type of fear hanging over their head?

Moreover, immigration issues are the responsibility of the federal government, and local resources are meant to be used to better our communities, not to become federal “Johnny Law.”

In May 2015, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office announced it had ended its participation in 287(g), a program that “allowed for selected and trained officers to have access to Federal immigration databases and empowered them to interrogate, arrest and detain non-citizens believed to have violated federal immigration laws.” The office had become a member of the program in 2007, but has no current plans to re-enter it.

Back in 2015, a press release from the office noted that, “Since its inception in 1996, the Program has attracted a wide range of criticism. Among the concerns, critics say it lacked proper Federal oversight, exhausted local resources and ultimately, resulted in the profiling of undocumented immigrants.” And while this was the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office stance in 2015, Springs residents should keep up the pressure as the immigration debate heats up nationally, in order to prevent unlawful detainment and protect those in sensitive/sanctuary locations.

Kyle Huelsman, policy and advocacy manager of Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition [CIRC], says there are still county sheriff’s offices that go out of their way to contact ICE. He says, “There is no federal or state law that creates an affirmative obligation for law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration laws.” The only relevant federal statute, 8 U.S.C. 1373, mandates that local jurisdictions share citizenship information with ICE, he says. It does not require local law enforcement to do ICE’s job.

CIRC worked with sheriff’s offices to draft the IMPACT [Improving and Maintaining Protections, Accountability, and Community Trust] Act, a bill that would have restricted detainment and denial of bonds. Unfortunately, IMPACT failed to pass in the Colorado legislature in 2017. Despite setbacks, Huelsman says that one of the best things we can do “is to get organized as a community.” Grupo Esperanza, CIRC, local churches, organizations and individuals like Rosalina are making an impact now, and plans are in the works to ask legislators to consider an IMPACT bill in 2018.


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