In the video, two men wearing ball caps and in plainclothes appear startled when local attorney Whitney Leeds approaches them inside the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse and asks if they are ICE agents.
“Hi. Are you here with ICE?” she asks.
“And you are...?” responds one of the men.
“I’m Whitney. Nice to meet you.”
She extends her hand toward him for a handshake. The man keeps his hands in his sweatshirt pockets.
“Are you here with immigration enforcement?”
“Are you here to make an arrest?”
“Do you have a warrant?”
One of the men makes a grimaced face.
In another part of the video, Leeds speaks to a third ICE agent who appears to admit that he does not have a warrant to make an arrest.
When asked, two of the men give Leeds their badge numbers. They refer all of her remaining questions — including whether they'd notified the court staff of their activity — to “the Public Affairs office.”
ICE issued a statement on Friday, February 24, about the video:
“ICE officers and agents do not conduct undercover operations in court rooms. ICE personnel are authorized to wear 'street clothes' and do not have a standard uniform they are required to wear to work. At times, when conducting targeted arrests officers may wear tactical safety gear with law enforcement markings. ICE officers identify themselves to those individuals with whom they engage, whether for the purposes of questioning or arrest.
"The ERO officers in question were in possession of a signed administrative arrest warrant at the time of arrest. Form I-200 is the administrative arrest warrant signed by an authorized ICE official that documents an individual arrest.
"ICE policy allows officers to enter public buildings, including courthouses, to conduct targeted arrests of individuals.”
That ICE agents are inside the courthouse undercover is not illegal; anybody may enter the courthouse, which is a public space.
But the video underscores a concern among immigration advocates and attorneys: By using the court system to find and detain immigrants, ICE is undermining the judicial system and making people fearful of showing up to court for their trials, including for things like misdemeanor cases.
Just because ICE arrests someone does not mean that they are deportable; there is a separate hearing process to determine that.
"This is what I think ICE doesn't understand: If they pick people up when they're trying to do the right thing, people are going to stop trying to do the right thing because they'll be afraid to go to court," says attorney Hans Meyer of the Meyer Law Office.
Westword spoke with Meyer about this issue last July, when one of his clients was apprehended by ICE agents in a courthouse while the client was trying to resolve a misdemeanor charge unrelated to immigration.
"What's so frustrating was that [my client] was picked up in the process of trying to do the right thing," Meyer said at the time. “I want my clients to comply, I want them to show up to court, I want them to have faith in the system, but when ICE comes in and monkey-wrenches the system, it's very difficult for people to feel like they can still have faith when they got their legs cut out from under them.
"Having ICE go out and round people up for cases where they haven't been found guilty, and they're either defending themselves or working through a resolution, doesn't make sense for anybody, because it sows fear. People have an incentive then not to show up to court," Meyer added.
It's something immigrant communities are already concerned about; at a packed forum on President Donald Trump’s immigration policies held at North High School on February 2, Meyer and Deputy City Attorney Cristal DeHerrera got into a heated exchange after a mother posed a question during a Q&A session about whether it was safe to enter courthouses without risking a run-in with ICE.
After DeHerrera answered “Yes,” Meyer grabbed a microphone and told the room that he has had many clients picked up while reporting to district- and county-level courthouses for trials unrelated to immigration. Meyer said he also has clients who have been picked up while posting bond and while reporting to probation offices.
While he didn’t say that people concerned about their immigration status shouldn’t report to court or to probation offices, he stressed that ICE is indeed using those locations to make apprehensions – a practice that's confirmed by the video his office published on Thursday.
"This undermines community policing and public safety, because it drives entire immigrant communities away from the trust that they want to have in local government," Meyer told Westword after the video was published. "It's clear that ICE couldn't care less about these consequences."
"However, we have faith that the Mayor's Office and Denver City Council will implement substantive protections to prevent ICE from wreaking havoc on our local court system, rebuild trust at the local level, and protect immigrant communities from the Trump administration's brutal mass-deportation plans," he added.
The Meyer Law Office is now leading a charge to pressure Denver and Colorado elected officials to pass sanctuary laws that limit where and when ICE can operate.
In a followup to the video showing the three ICE agents in the Lindsey-Flanigan courthouse, Meyer and his office’s policy director, Julie Gonzales, sat down for a Facebook Live video to explain how people can protect themselves and what they can do to push Denver and Colorado to create sanctuary laws.
In the Facebook video, Gonzales points out that – especially as it appeared that the three ICE agents didn’t have warrants — anyone finding themselves apprehended in such a manner should exercise his or her right to remain silent.
“The Constitution protects everybody, regardless of your immigration status,” she says.
Gonzales adds that when confronted with an ICE agent, undocumented immigrants should “ask the officer: ‘Am I free to leave?’ If the answer is yes…you should leave. If the answer is no…absolutely utilize your right to remain silent. Don’t answer any questions. The only obligation you have in that moment is to give your full name and date of birth to identify yourself.”
The Meyer office has made its own “know your rights” pamphlet, which goes into more detail.
Later in the Facebook video, Meyer adds, “There are things we can do to get ICE out of our courts. We need to pass those policies now.”
He suggests calling members of Denver’s City Council. “Let them know you want ICE out of our courts,” he says. “We want our city to be inclusive and welcoming, and in order for it to be inclusive and welcoming, it has to build those protections against what Donald Trump has said are his clear plans.”
On February 20, the Department of Homeland Security published two memos outlining those plans. It includes hiring an additional 10,000 ICE agents.
This story was updated on Friday, February 24, to include a statement from ICE.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.