Denver won't challenge a federal judge's ruling in its fight with Immigration and Customs Enforcement over subpoena requests, bringing to a close a high-profile legal battle that touched on issues of local control and the authority of federal immigration authorities. But the city is declaring at least a partial win, albeit a small one.
“The Court agreed with us that ICE's administrative subpoenas were too broad and demanded Denver produce documents that ICE already had. We are grateful the decision limits the information that must be provided to ICE about the three immigrant detainees," says Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the Denver City Attorney's Office, regarding Judge Michael E. Hegarty's April 20 ruling in the U.S. District Court of Colorado case.
In accordance with the judge's ruling, Denver will turn over personal and work addresses of three detainees who went through the city's jail system, their emergency contacts, information about current criminal charges, and address details from bond records. The three detainees had all been arrested on serious criminal charges; ICE wanted to detain them for possible deportation.
The requirement that Denver turn over some of the information sought in ICE's subpoena requests, which were originally sent to the Denver Sheriff Department back on January 13, represents a symbolic victory for the Trump administration, which had authorized the unprecedented action: The move to subpoena the Denver Sheriff Department was the first time ICE had ever subpoenaed another law enforcement agency.
"Although ICE has not historically had a need to issue immigration subpoenas requesting information, the authority to issue immigration subpoenas is codified in federal law," Alethea Smock, a local ICE spokesperson, had previously told Westword.
After sending subpoenas to Denver, ICE did the same with other law enforcement agencies in various jurisdictions across the U.S.
Matthew Albence, the acting director for ICE, hyped the battle over subpoeanas with local law enforcement agencies in a January 23 press conference. "They can show up to court with a toothbrush, because they might not be going home that night, because they could be jailed for failure to comply with a lawful order from a judge," Albence said.
Denver city officials seized on this rhetoric in arguing that the subpoena requests were made in bad faith and politically motivated.
But Judge Hegarty wasn't persuaded. In his ruling, he stated that "if such subpoenas become a regular occurrence, then some day a federal court may have a more difficult decision, but this is not that day."
Even though ICE won this round, Denver officials point out that the effects of the judge's ruling are limited to just these three subpoenas and won't change city policy, which largely limited city employees' communications with ICE.
"Denver will continue to evaluate future administrative subpoenas on a case-by-case basis, but to the extent they are overly broad, seek irrelevant or protected information, or are not issued for a legitimate purpose, Denver will continue to hold ICE to its proof before a court of law," Luby says.
That position is also being stressed by local immigrant-rights advocates, including Gabriela Flora of the American Friends Service Committee.
"ICE is trying to paint this as a victory and use this to intimidate other jurisdictions," she says, "but the reality is that the ruling is incredibly narrow."