Colorado Politicians Concerned About Rumored ICE Operation in Denver

The Trump administration has threatened to launch large-scale ICE operations in Denver before.
The Trump administration has threatened to launch large-scale ICE operations in Denver before. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Colorado politicians are pushing back against a rumored Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation that could hit Denver before the election.

“The president’s proposed ICE raids are intended to incite fear for political gain," says Representative Joe Neguse. "His attempts to demonize immigrants will not work in Denver and will not work in Colorado. We need humane and comprehensive immigration reform, not an administration that cruelly rips people away from their homes and their families."

On September 29, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was preparing an "immigration enforcement blitz" focusing on cities that have adopted so-called sanctuary policies. The "sanctuary op" would begin in California, likely in early October, and then expand to other places, including Denver, according to the Post piece.

President Donald Trump is down in the polls, and launching a high-profile ICE operation just weeks before the November 3 election would take a page from his playbook of using immigration scare tactics to rally supporters, critics say.

"We have heard rumors of these threats before, and coming so close to an election, it is disturbing," says Theresa Marchetta, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock.

Since 2017, Denver has had a law in place that largely prohibits city employees from communicating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The law also prevents the Denver Sheriff Department from acting on ICE requests to hold immigrant detainees past their normal release time so that the agency can pick them up.

Marchetta notes that "Denver's ordinance is framed so it does not violate federal law or protect criminals."

Even so, the law has drawn the ire of ICE, which considers Denver a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants; it previously targeted Denver for its apparent lack of cooperation in a high-profile court battle.

In 2019, the Colorado Legislature passed a similar law that prevents law enforcement throughout the state from holding on to detainees past their release date so that ICE has time to pick them up.

John Fabbricatore, the Denver field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, has referred to this 2019 measure as a "heinous sanctuary bill," and his staffers put the spotlight on a handful of incidents involving individuals who allegedly committed serious crimes after being released from custody by law enforcement agencies in Colorado.

In 2020, the legislature passed a bill that also banned ICE from making courthouse arrests.

"Generally speaking, as ICE has noted for years, in jurisdictions where cooperation does not exist and ICE is not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, ICE is forced to arrest at-large criminal aliens out in the communities instead of under the safe confines of a jail,” notes ICE spokesperson Mike Alvarez.

Alvarez declines to comment on the recent Washington Post report, explaining that the federal agency does not speak about “any law enforcement sensitive issues that may adversely impact” ICE officers and the public. Every day, he adds, ICE “targets and arrests criminal aliens and other individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws."

ICE hasn't said anything about a possible operation in Denver to Congresswoman Diana DeGette, whose district covers the city.

“This administration’s ongoing efforts to terrorize immigrant families across this country is reprehensible, and it’s not who we are as a nation," DeGette says. "I have asked ICE for details about any plans it has to launch targeted arrests in our area, but they have so far refused to provide them. I have assured them that I will continue to monitor the situation closely, and we will provide any information we learn to the community. Instilling fear into the hearts of innocent families for political purposes is an inexcusable abuse of power that must not be tolerated."

In the summer of 2019, other news reports suggested that ICE was planning large-scale immigration enforcement operations in various cities across the country, including Denver. No such high-profile operations occurred, however.

It's all political maneuvering by Trump, according to Gladis Ibarra of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

"This is clearly a political move by the president meant to bully cities that have taken sensible steps to protect themselves and immigrant residents from federal overreach and ICE abuses," Ibarra says. "We will continue to stand for what’s best for Denver as a whole."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.