Immigration

ICE Raids Target "Sanctuary Jurisdictions," Including Denver

Jeff Sessions has vowed to crackdown on sanctuary cities
Jeff Sessions has vowed to crackdown on sanctuary cities Youtube
Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump do not like sanctuary cities, even if that term lacks any legal definition that’s been ratified by a judge.

But does that really matter?

Since Sessions and Trump hold the reins at both the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a sanctuary city is essentially whatever Trump and Sessions say it is.

In early February, as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was studiously avoiding that term — choosing, instead, to call Denver a “welcoming city” — ICE was already shaming Denver on a list of jurisdictions that do not honor detainers, requests from ICE that local jails hold on to certain inmates past their release dates so it can investigate their immigration status.

At that time, we asked whether ICE already considered Denver a sanctuary city.

As of yesterday, we can say with certainty that it does.

In a political move, ICE blasted out a press release on September 28 lauding its success with “Operation Safe City,” a nationwide immigration roundup in cities the feds consider "sanctuary" jurisdictions that resulted in 498 persons being arrested, including 63 in Denver, between Sunday, September 24, and Wednesday, September 27.

In ICE's release, acting director Tom Homan stated, “Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration. As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

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In addition to Denver not honoring detainer requests (note: Federal judges have sided with Denver on this, ruling that detainer requests cannot be mandated), the city recently drew the ire of ICE by passing an ordinance that limits communication between city employees and the federal agency. The local acting field director, Jeffrey Lynch, called Denver's new ordinance "irresponsible."

Friction between the city and the federal immigration agency is only increasing.

Westword recently obtained documents via a Freedom of Information Act request that showed ICE is also conducting regular arrests of undocumented persons attending Denver courthouses for cases unrelated to immigration. Many of those arrestees had only misdemeanors on their record, which appears to go against an internal ICE protocol that directs agents to go after convicted felons.

Prior to our requesting the FOIA data from ICE, which revealed that at least 31 undercover arrests had occurred at Denver's courthouses between October and May, city officials only knew about a handful of such arrests, including those documented by videos made by members of the Meyer Law Office. But the fear created by such arrests has already forced nine domestic violence cases to be dropped, since witnesses are afraid to show up to courthouse hearings.

During "Operation Safe City," ICE also arrested people with minor records or no criminal records at all, according to some legal experts. That's despite ICE's claim in its release that most of its 498 arrests netted "convicted criminals."

As for sanctuary status, on September 15 a federal judge blocked Trump's executive order that threatened to pull federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, citing the lack of a legal definition for the sanctuary-city term; Denver filed an amicus brief in that case, which was spearheaded by Santa Clara, California.

Still — with or without a legal definition — it's now clear that the White House, DHS and ICE all believe that Denver fits the description of a sanctuary city.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker