“I know that we all went to bed and woke up with images of roundups in this country,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said at a forum on immigration and refugees on Saturday, February 11. “We acknowledge that President Trump’s actions have wreaked havoc on this nation.”
Mayor Hancock spoke before an audience of at least 650 concerned Denver residents at the Place Bridge Academy on Saturday. His reference to roundups was topical.
During the 48 hours prior to the forum, reports about immigration raids have been coming in from newsrooms around the nation. According to the Washington Post , officials with ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – confirm that federal agents have detained hundreds of individuals in raids on homes and businesses in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, as well as locations in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Aside from the official statements, immigration advocates claim that ICE has also rounded up undocumented immigrants in Florida, Kansas, Texas and Virginia since Thursday, February 9.
ICE officials are asserting that these raids were routine. In addition, they told the Washington Post that the agency takes umbrage with how their department is being described:
ICE dislikes the term “raids,” and prefers to say authorities are conducting “targeted enforcement actions.”
Whatever the terminology, the immigration roundups are shifting when compared to those carried out during the Obama administration, which deported more non-citizens during eight years (over two million) than any previous administration, but it had also prioritized its detention operations to focus on recent border crossers and individuals who posed national or public-safety risks.
At the forum in Denver, Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado, explained that ICE's list of targets has already broadened under the Trump administration.
Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado.
Silverstein told the audience that one of Trump’s many executive orders that he's signed during the first three weeks of his presidency has expanded the priorities of immigration enforcement to go beyond individuals with criminal records to almost all undocumented people.
“I used to think, perhaps naively, that they’re not going to do everything [Trump] talked about during the campaign,” said Silverstein. “These new executive orders make me fear that there are people in Washington [D.C.] who want to make almost everyone a priority.”
The forum heard from other immigration-rights speakers, but the event was notable for featuring top Denver and Colorado officials. Aside from Mayor Hancock, the audience heard from Denver Police Chief Robert White, Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman, City Attorney Kristin Bronson and acting U.S. Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer.
While many of the topics covered were the same as those addressed at a packed hearing on Thursday, February 2, at North High School, the presence of Denver’s political heavyweights did offer some reassurance to the crowd.
Still, during the nine days between the forums, concerns around immigration enforcement have become more fraught since ICE began conducting raids.
Panicked community members wanted to know if their kids would be safe at Denver's schools (DPS officials assured the crowd that they wouldn’t volunteer any information to ICE) and why the city hasn’t formally declared itself a “sanctuary city” — even with the president threatening through executive order to pull federal funding from municipalities protecting undocumented residents.
The 650-capacity auditorium was completely full.
On the issue of sanctuary cities, Hancock and members of his staff explained that the term has no legal definition and that Denver will do everything in its power, including filing a lawsuit if necessary, to protect its community members.
“Our [police] officers will continue to serve and protect all citizens of Denver,” added Hancock. “We will not become immigration law enforcement officers in this city.
“I’m not a guy that’s big on labels,” he explained regarding the sanctuary-city title. Instead, the mayor said, Denver is working to ensure that its policies and practices are “rock solid to protect immigrants and refugees.”
Later, after being pressed during a Q&A session, Hancock added that he’s still open to considering a formal declaration of Denver being a sanctuary city, especially if he is asked to do so by Denver's City Council. “We’re not closed to it. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” he said.
As at the North High forum on February 2, there was also a commitment on the city’s part to continue its practice of not honoring ICE's request for detainers — holding on to undocumented inmates at jails — something that is not mandated by law.
But there was also discussion about ICE agents infiltrating Denver’s courts and showing up to county jails with information that the Denver Sheriff's Department provides regarding the release dates of undocumented inmates.
Sheriff Firman says that his department provides release date information to ICE because it is standard practice to give that information to any citizen who requests it.
But Firman acknowledged the crowd’s concerns and said that the sheriff department is consulting with Denver’s attorneys to see if they don’t have to give ICE that information.
“Our policy is currently under review,” Firman said. “This is not something we’re pushing back on.”
When the forum ended, there were dozens of immigration attorneys and nonprofits set up at tables outside the auditorium to provide more information to concerned Denverites.
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The city also provided a resource list, included below in both English and Spanish: