Immigrant rights group asks ICE to stay away from Strawberry Days Festival
Update below: Will federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a presence at this weekend's 115th annual Strawberry Days Festival in Glenwood Springs? That's what youth-led immigrant rights group AJUA wants to know. AJUA sent a letter to ICE, explaining that the agency's presence at last year's fair "traumatized our community." At least one man was taken into ICE custody last year, and others were questioned.
"It's a sensitive location," says Hector Morales, a recent Basalt High School graduate and member of AJUA, which stands for the Asociación de Jóvenes Unidos en Acción. "There are families there; there are children there. It discourages mixed-status families from attending the fair. People will be afraid that they will get picked up."
AJUA argues that it's against ICE policy for agents to be present at an event like Strawberry Days. They point to a 2008 ICE field guidance memo as proof. "This memo states clearly that ICE should refrain from conducting enforcement actions or investigative activities at or near sensitive locations where children and their families may be present," AJUA claims. Strawberry Days definitely fits that bill, Morales says.
"I've talked to both U.S. citizens and undocumented people, and it seems that both groups of people are kind of afraid," Morales says. "Citizens are afraid for their loved ones." Morales says that applies to him, too. While he's a citizen, some of his relatives are undocumented. "I don't really want to go in case somebody gets picked up."
A man who was taken into custody last year filed a lawsuit against the officers involved, including Carbondale cop Alvaro Agon, who came under fire for his alleged dual role as both an ICE liaison and a school resource officer. (The Roaring Fork School District has since adopted a memo of understanding that urges the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt police departments to use "extraordinary discretion" when assigning duties to school resource officers "where a student's family immigration status may come into question.")
A photo of dwindling crowds after a man was picked up by ICE at last year's festival.
Colordao Immigrant Rights Coalition
But the lawsuit, which was filed before the MOU, alleges that Agon was an "ICE informant" who designated two men, Julio Alvarez-Cortez and his brother Cesar Alvarez, "for pick up" by Garfield County deputy sheriffs at the Strawberry Days Festival. Agon knew them because both are active parents at Carbondale Middle School, the lawsuit alleges.
The men were taken by the deputy sheriffs to an area outside the carnival where ICE had set up a mobile detention center, the lawsuit says. They were asked to produce identification and threatened with detention. Alvarez was let go because he's a single father of twin daughters, the lawsuit says, but his brother was taken into ICE custody.
The plaintiffs allege the arrest was wrong because the deputies were not authorized to act as ICE agents and ICE shouldn't have been at the carnival in the first place for the same reasons that AJUA cites. Westword has contacted the attorneys involved in the lawsuit for an update and will update this blog post if and when we hear back.
In the meantime, read AJUA's letter to ICE on the following page. As of this morning, AJUA had not heard back, Morales says.
Update, 3:28 p.m. June 12: Here's the response we received from ICE on this subject:
For operational security reasons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) does not comment on its operations schedule. However, in support of public safety, HSI routinely works in partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to accomplish our common goal of combating crime.
June 6, 2012
To: Mr. Paul Maldonado Special Agent in Charge ICE Homeland Security Investigations 5445 DTC Parkway, Ste. 600 Englewood, CO 8011
We are writing to you before the upcoming Father's Day Weekend to ask a question. We are representatives of the Asociación de Jóvenes Unidos en Acción (AJUA: Association of Youth United in Action), a youth led immigrant rights group located in Colorado's greater Roaring Fork Valley. We have been researching a pattern of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and local law enforcement collaboration that has had the effect of eroding the immigrant community's trust in our local officials. For the past year, AJUA has been working diligently with the Roaring Fork School District to prevent School Resource Officers (SROs) who are cross-designated to work on ICE task forces from serving in our schools. The presence of ICE cross-designated SROs in our schools creates insecurity, tension, and a lack of trust between students' families and local law enforcement. AJUA's campaign to remove ICE cross-designated SROs from area schools has led to a national investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The question we want to ask you is this: Is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) planning to be present at the 115th Strawberry Days Festival in Glenwood Springs, Colorado?
Please let us explain why the answer is important to us. We suspect that Colorado ICE/HSI violated one of its own key directives by both sponsoring the cross-designation of SROs who work in schools, and by allowing full-time ICE agents to directly participate in operations at a family fair. In 2008, the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE issued a field guidance memorandum entitled, "Field Guidance on Enforcement Actions or Investigative Activities At or Near Sensitive Community Locations." This memo states clearly that ICE should refrain from conducting enforcement actions or investigative activities at or near sensitive locations where children and their families may be present. It is AJUA's position that both cross-designating SROs and raiding the Strawberry Days Festival are violations of this directive.
The Strawberry Days Festival is one of our community's largest annual family events. The wide range of activities, from arts and crafts to carnival rides and parades, has always been a safe form of family entertainment that we all look forward to. The fair provides an opportunity for family bonding, and brings together the different communities of the Valley to celebrate the beautiful place where we all live. The fair is also one of many ways that the immigrant community of the Valley contributes financially to its wellbeing.
The 2011 Strawberry Days ICE raid traumatized our community and scarred the safe environment once present throughout the region. Our excitement for the festival was lost, and the raid stole many families' peace of mind. Parents, frequently in mixed-status families, do not know who will be picked up by ICE next, and are concerned that they will be putting their families at risk by taking them to the festival.
The 2012 Strawberry Days Festival in Glenwood Springs is scheduled to begin on June 14, and we are concerned that there will be another ICE raid at this sensitive location where children and their families will be present. As leaders in the immigrant community, we urge ICE to refrain from conducting or participating in operations with or without local law enforcement at the Festival.
In order for us to make sure that we have enough time to let the community know that the festival will be a safe place for them to attend, please respond to our question as soon as you can.
We look forward to your response by this Friday, June 8th.
More from our Immigration archive: "Lay Catholics, Gill Foundation make up funding lost by immigrant center."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.