ACLU urges schools to adopt policy banning school police officers from working with ICE

The American Civil Liberties Union has jumped in on the debate simmering in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs over whether school resource officers should be allowed to collaborate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a letter sent to the Roaring Fork School District board, the ACLU sides with immigrant-rights groups.

From the letter:

When SROs work in collaboration with ICE, that very act discourages families who have undocumented members from sending their children to school for fear that the SRO will use his position to gain information to share with ICE.

The focus of the debate has shifted lately toward making more sweeping policy changes and away from condemning the alleged actions of a single officer, Carbondale cop Alvaro Agon. Last month, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition raised concerns about Agon's dual role as the school resource officer at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale and his previous position as the Carbondale police department's liaison to ICE.

"We have some cases documented of him questioning students about their parents' status," CIRC organizer Brendan Greene said. "We have instances of him deporting family members of parents and students at the schools. Then, those same children have to see him at school in the following days.... It makes them not feel safe at the school."

Rebecca Teitelbaum Wallace, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Colorado, says the ACLU first heard of the issue from Greene. "We read many of the summaries of CIRC's interviews with residents of Carbondale who had been effected by the local SRO collaborating with ICE," Teitelbaum Wallace says via e-mail. " We then sent an open-records request to the Carbondale Police Department and confirmed that Carbondale's SRO had directly collaborated with ICE on numerous occasions, resulting in the beginning of the deportation process for many residents."

Agon is also the subject of a lawsuit regarding two men who were questioned by ICE at a June carnival connected with Glenwood Springs' Strawberry Days festival. It alleges that Agon is an "ICE informant" who designated two fathers whom he knew from his work at Carbondale Middle School "for pick up" by Garfield County deputy sheriffs.

Local police chiefs have defended their practices, explaining at a press conference covered by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that the local police are not concerned with residents' immigration status -- just their criminal activity. But sometimes the arrests of undocumented immigrants lead to their deportation, they said. "We only enforce the law," Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said, according to the Post Independent. "It doesn't matter who the person is or where they're from, and it's not a race thing."

But CIRC and the Colorado ACLU say the circumstances surrounding the arrest and deportation matter less than the fact that school resources officers are involved. "When SROs collaborate with ICE, regardless of the police department's asserted intent behind the collaboration, the message to the community and students is clear: that the SROs are working to enforce federal immigration law," the ACLU wrote in its letter.

It's now up to the Roaring Fork school board, whose members have said they would be willing to consider a policy that bans school resource officers from collaborating with ICE. Their next meeting is October 26.

In the meantime, CIRC is hosting a public forum at the Orchard Church in Carbondale on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the issue. "The town forum will focus on bringing out the issues and speaking about it in public," says CIRC spokesman Alan Kaplan. "We're inviting the school boards, the sheriffs, Alvaro [Ago] and everyone to come out and say their piece." They've also invited the immigrant community, several of whom first reported concerns about Agon. "It's going to be an interesting event," Kaplan promises.

More from our Immigration archives: "Immigration rights activist groups protest renewal of GEO contract (PHOTOS)."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar