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Denver Moves To Cut Off Communication With ICE

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Denver City Council introduced a measure Wednesday that would essentially prohibit city officials from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

While most of its provisions simply codify existing municipal guidance, the four-point proposal does include one new policy: Going forward, the Denver Sheriff Department would no longer be allowed to notify immigration agents when an inmate wanted on an immigration detainer is about to be released from jail, the Denver Post reported.

The city already refuses to hold criminal aliens past their jail sentences for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but the proposed law would take that policy a step further by preventing police from giving immigration agents advance warning that a subject is about to go free.

The two City Council members who introduced the so-called Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act said Denver should not be helping ICE enforce federal immigration law.

“Their job is to follow up on it as to how they see fit,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said during a committee meeting. “The notification piece crosses that line. It gets us involved in helping.”

If adopted, the new policy is likely to worsen already tense relations between the Denver Sheriff Department and ICE. The agencies have butted heads over multiple incidents in which Denver inmates with outstanding immigration detainers were released on short notice, reports the Post.

In the latest controversy, Ricardo Lopez Vera, an illegal alien accused of killing a fellow inmate in a July 10 fight at Denver’s Downtown Detention Center, was released before ICE agents could take him into custody at the jail. ICE blasted the Denver Sheriff for first moving Lopez Vera to a hospital for medical treatment and then allowing him to be released from the hospital without notifying immigration agents.

Kniech and co-sponsor Paul Lopez said their proposal would allow Denver police to notify ICE and hold suspects if agents have an arrest warrant issued by a judge or magistrate. Both lawmakers claim that further limiting local police cooperation with immigration authorities will preserve trust between Denver’s immigrant community and law enforcement officers.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people still living in fear,” Lopez said. “It absolutely is unacceptable. We hope to clarify what our city already is doing and fill in those gaps.”

In addition to halting notifications of an inmate’s pending release, the proposal would turn three existing municipal guidelines into law. It would prevent the Denver Sheriff from honoring ICE detainers, prohibit police officers from asking about a person’s immigration status, and bar city funds or resources from going toward immigration enforcement.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the measure’s sponsors are using supposed concern about public safety as a cover to score political points.

“This is purely political,” Mehlman told the Post. “It has nothing to do with police-community relationships.”

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Will Racke