The Meyer Law Office released two videos on Tuesday, May 6, that show that agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement are continuing to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants in and around Denver's courthouses, despite the City of Denver sending ICE a letter on April 6 asking that agents stay away from "sensitive locations" such as courthouses and schools.
The law office had previously captured a video of ICE agents inside the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse on February 16, and that documentation was part of what prompted the city to ask ICE to cease the practice. At the time that the city sent its letter, in early April, the City Attorney's Office revealed that four cases had to be dropped because witnesses, fearing encounters with ICE agents, refused to show up to hearings.
Similar concerns were raised by Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, who wrote in a March 16 letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair. They not only compromise our core value of fairness, but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice."
Sessions and Kelly wrote back on March 31, saying that the Trump administration does not plan to change the practice. They claimed security screenings at the entrances of courthouses make them safer for ICE agents to apprehend people.
The Meyer Law Office uploaded the following YouTube videos and explained the arrests, which happened on April 28 and May 5:
The first video documents the arrest of a man who appeared at the Denver County Court on Friday, April 28, 2017 for a pending misdemeanor traffic case. The individual was arrested by two ICE officers in the vestibule as he was walking out of the courthouse, while Denver Sheriff’s deputies stood by. The video, filmed by his girlfriend in three separate short videos from her phone, documents his arrest as he screams in Spanish for help and begs the officers to stop hurting his hand. The...arrest was conducted in full public view on court property with multiple bystanders witnessing the incident. After the arrest, the girlfriend obtained the ICE officers’ names and badge numbers...He is now in immigration custody in El Paso, Texas, and could be deported at any time. At this time, the individual and his girlfriend would prefer to remain anonymous, but did want to share the video.
The second video documents Meyer Law Office, PC client, Mr. Antonio Garcia, who was arrested at the Denver County Court on Friday, May 5, 2017 immediately following court on a misdemeanor case. In this video, MLO associate attorney Matthew Keller documents two ICE officers as they arrest Mr. Garcia as he leaves court. Mr. Keller asks the officers whether they have a warrant, and the officers allege that they do have one, but refuse to provide it to him as Mr. Garcia’s attorney. Mr. Keller then asks the officers for their names and badge numbers, and they refuse to identify themselves, instead referring Mr. Keller to the ICE Public Information phone number. Mr. Garcia is now being detained at the Aurora ICE Detention Facility.
At a press conference today, May 9, attorney Hans Meyer didn’t mince words about two recent videos showing ICE agents making arrests at a courthouse in Denver.
“When we have ICE showing up and conducting courthouse arrests and brutalizing people...in full public view, it drives everyone away from trusting local government,” Meyer said. “Victims of crime, witnesses to crime, people trying to pay fines, people trying to resolve their cases, and people trying to appear and exercise their day in court won't come because ICE will manipulate the justice system and use that as a basis to arrest people.
“ICE has made it very clear that they're not going to respect our requests, which makes it clear that we need to pass sanctuary policy and designate our city spaces as places where we do not want, or will allow, ICE to conduct immigration enforcement operations,” he continued.
Meyer referenced a sanctuary policy that his office and other immigrant rights organizations unveiled at a crowded public meeting on April 27. He said that he is currently working with members of Denver City Council to try and codify some of its proposed protections, including designating courthouses as spaces where ICE shouldn't be conducting immigration enforcement.
Meyer couldn’t confirm if other cities were making similar designations for its courthouses, but he said he would be reaching out to state judges and local courthouse staff to see what can be done within Constitutional limits.
Meyer didn’t elaborate when asked about the criminal histories of the two detained individuals from the recent videos.
“What I believe is important is that ICE is meddling in our local systems,” said Meyer. “The point is, we have a message from ICE and it is: We don't care what you want, Denver.”
Later today, the law office will be releasing a Facebook Live video giving advice to members of the immigrant community who have upcoming court hearings.
“We don't want [these videos] to create alarm,” Meyer said. “We don't want people to stop trusting the judicial system because of these videos. But these videos do speak for themselves about what ICE is doing. So we want to make sure people understand their obligations and rights, but also make sure that they receive proper advice before they walk into a courthouse.
“This issue is not going away until we build substantial protections,” he continued, “and it's incumbent on us as the City and County of Denver to do something about it, and that needs to happen now.”
Update: 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 9
Both ICE and the City of Denver provided Westword with statements about the videos. Here is the statement from ICE:
On April 28, officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) encountered Alvaro-Tirzo Sauceda-Malgon, 39, from Mexico, while he was exiting a Denver courthouse. He was arrested as an immigration fugitive since Sauceda-Malgon received final orders of deportation from a federal immigration judge in 2012. He has two misdemeanor convictions. He remains in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.
On May 5, ICE officers encountered Antonio Garcia, 45, from Mexico, while he was exiting a Denver courthouse. Garcia has two convictions for driving under the influence (DUI), and he has pleaded guilty to two additional charges since January 2017. He remains in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.
Current ICE guidance directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances. The locations specified in the guidance include schools, places of worship and hospitals. Under this ICE policy, courthouses are not considered sensitive locations. ICE arrests targets at courthouses, such as the following:
- Many of the arrest targets ICE has sought out at or near courthouses are foreign nationals who have prior criminal convictions in the U.S. In years past, most of these individuals would have been turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from jail based on ICE detainers.
- When criminal custody transfers occur inside the secure confines of a jail or prison, it’s far safer for everyone involved, including our officers and the person being arrested.
- Now that some law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. When ICE Fugitive Operations officers have to proactively search for these criminal aliens, regardless of the precautions they take, it needlessly puts our personnel and potentially innocent bystanders in harm’s way.
- Moreover, tracking down our priority fugitives is highly resource-intensive. It’s not uncommon for our criminal alien targets to utilize multiple aliases and provide authorities with false addresses. Many do not have a stable place of employment.
- Absent a viable address for a residence or place of employment, a courthouse may afford the most likely opportunity to locate a target and take him or her into custody.
- Additionally, because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and for the arrestee are substantially diminished.
- In such instances where deportation officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.
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The city of Denver also sent the following statement through Mayor's Office spokeswoman Jenna Espinoza:
“These enforcement actions that are taking place in sensitive locations directly contradict written guidance provided by the Department of Homeland Security and strike fear in the heart of our immigrant community.
The City and County of Denver outlined these impacts very clearly to ICE. We asked them to respect sensitive locations and take measures around these sensitive areas so as not to potentially put by-standers at risk, hinder the prosecution of crimes or compromise police-community relationships vital to public safety. It is disappointing that they have not responded to our requests.
We believe courthouses, hospitals, schools, and places of worship deserve special protection from immigration enforcement. But like cities and counties throughout the United States, Denver does not bar ICE officials from entering public buildings. We will continue to drive a clear and unwavering message to ICE that this is not the right approach and they must find another route to enforcing immigration laws.”