Update: ICE reviewing court summonses as part of immigration enforcement surge

Update: Immigration and Customs Enforcement has revised an earlier statement that ICE is screening traffic summonses in Aurora to identify undocumented immigrants who are fugitives, have been previously deported or have been convicted of crimes. The revised statement, sent two hours after the original, says ICE is screening court summonses, not traffic summonses.

Carl Rusnok, the ICE spokesman who e-mailed both statements to Westword, did not respond to a question asking the difference between the two types of summonses. He did provide this brief explanation: "This screening of court summonses is accomplished periodically, and is not part of the CAP (criminal alien program) surge."

Immigrant advocates are frustrated that ICE is changing its story. Father Steve Adams of St. Pius X Catholic Parish and a leader with Metro Organizations for People sent his own statement: "ICE's announcement of new tactics in using summonses is disappointing and despicable. We had a conference call this morning with ICE in Washington D.C. and they blatantly lied in telling us there is no surge. Now, they are naming the surge in their press release. This kind of behavior is why we don't want them in our community!"

Mike Whitbeck, another MOP leader, says ICE's revised statement "feels like another cover-up." Says Whitbeck, "They can't seem to keep their story straight."

Look below to read our original coverage, which includes the original release from Rusnok using the term "traffic summonses" and responses to the announcement by a local advocate.

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Original item, March 2, 1:41 p.m.: Immigration and Customs Enforcement is currently screening traffic summonses in Aurora to identify undocumented immigrants who are fugitives, have been previously deported or have been convicted of crimes, according to a statement issued today by ICE. The actions are part of a so-called ICE enforcement surge that reportedly began February 29 and will continue through March 6.

Read the statement, provided by ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Denver is conducting a "surge" of its criminal alien program (CAP) at the Aurora (Colo.) Jail. During the surge, ERO is screening 100 percent of the inmates who are arrested on criminal charges in Aurora to identify deportable aliens. ERO officers are working in the detention facility and will place detainers on these aliens to ensure that if they're released from local custody for any reason, they will be released to ERO.

ERO routinely operates the CAP program daily. This CAP surge provides on-site officers at the detention facility to focus our resources to screen 100 percent of those arrested on criminal charges 24 hours per day through March 6.

In addition to working CAP at the Aurora City Jail (as well as jails across Colorado and Wyoming), ERO officers review and screen traffic summonses. ERO reviews summonses to target aliens: 1) who are fugitives, 2) have been previously deported 3) or who have been convicted of crimes that align them with ICE Civil Immigration Enforcement priorities.

Immigrant advocates are rallying today against the surge. They're most concerned about ICE's screening of traffic summonses, which are low-level, non-criminal offenses.

"The fear here is, what is ICE going to do with that information?" says Julie Gonzales, the political director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. A summons is a notice telling a person when to show up in court, and Gonzales says the immigrant community's biggest fear is that when they do, an ICE officer will be waiting for them.

"We've always told individuals, 'You have to go to your court dates. Follow the process.' This destroys that," Gonzales says. "This absolutely is going to destroy community trust in local law enforcement and in the government."

Advocates caught wind of the surge several days ago and planned today's rally in Aurora to protest. Salvador Varela, a member of Metro Organizations for People who first heard of ICE's actions from a fellow parishoner at Queen of Peace Church, started a petition demanding that senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Representative Ed Perlmutter "condemn this disturbing tactic."

ICE has conducted other well-publicized surges, including in Virginia, Idaho and Texas -- and even Colorado. It appears from press releases and news stories that the purpose of those surges was to arrest undocumented people convicted of crimes or those who had been deported in the past and then returned to the U.S. illegally.

But advocates fear that this time, because ICE is reviewing traffic summonses, the surge will net non-criminals as well. Doing so goes against recent directives from ICE Director John Morton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to focus on deporting serious criminals -- and not law-abiding, contributing members of society. Denver was one of two cities to participate in a pilot program to review open immigration cases and close those deemed to be of low priority.

"On the heels of a (prosecutorial discretion) program that was piloted here in the state, to hear two, three, four weeks later that they're utilizing this tactic to go and fish out exceedingly low-level municipal infractions really calls [it] into question. Why are they doubling back on their goals?" Gonzales says.

More from our Immigration archive: "Immigration enforcement program phase-out won't allay advocates' worries."

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