The arrest of a man at a Garfield County fair has immigrant rights groups up in arms. The local sheriff says he was cracking down on gangs but there’s little evidence that the man was in a gang. And now he may be deported, separating him from his family. Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus reports.
Reporter Ben Markus: The day before Father’s Day Julio Alvarez and his wife Lorenza took their two kids to the Strawberry Days festival in Glenwood Springs. Lorenza says while they waited for the kids to get off the ride, sheriff’s and immigration officers arrested her husband and his brother. They were accused of being in a gang.
Lorenza -- seven months pregnant with Julio’s child -- was so distraught after the arrest that she says she had to be taken to the E.R.
Lorenza Alvarez: My husband’s all I have, I have two kids from a prior marriage, but he’s here with them every day teaching my son how to play baseball, he’s the one that sits down everyday helps my son with his homework.
Reporter: Lorenza is adamant that her husband isn’t in a gang and he didn’t have a criminal record. She thinks he was profiled by the gang task force because he was wearing blue to match his Cowboys jersey.
After the arrest, neither Julio nor his brother were charged with any gang-related crime. But because he was previously deported as a young man it’s likely Julio will be sent back to Mexico -- without a hearing.
Alvarez: I’m trying to be strong, but I’m breaking down too because I need my husband here and then having to tell my kids every night that he’s not coming home tonight, my kids tell me, ‘mom, can we sleep with you because Julio is not here to take care of you?’ "
Reporter: Lorenza is American-born and had been pushing hard for Julio to get his green card. They had an immigration attorney and his case was pending.
Alan Kaplan is with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. He says the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, overstepped their bounds.
Alan Kaplan: This kind of a story is not acceptable, I mean obviously ICE has to do it’s job but it has to go after criminals. These men were not criminals, these men were just there to have fun with their kids.
Reporter: ICE wouldn’t comment on the arrests expect to say that they took place.
Kaplan accuses the Garfield County Sheriff’s office of chilling Latino community relations by teaming with ICE.
Kaplan: It ruins the trust that the sheriff is supposed to have with the community that they protect and serve.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario: I would argue just the opposite, I would think that law-abiding folks in our community regardless of their ethnicity appreciate that fact that we’re removing criminals from our community.
Reporter: Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario is confident Julio Alvarez is a gang member based on intelligence from his task force. Though he wouldn’t give any details -- and the only crime Julio is being charged with is being in the country illegally.
Vallario: We don’t care what ethnic origin you are, whether your illegal or legal. We’re, our, my mission as a sheriff in Garfield County is to make my community safe. Criminal gangs pose a threat to that so we’re going to do what we can to remove that element from our community.
Reporter: But removing Julio has left his pregnant wife Lorenza feeling helpless.
Alvarez: The lawyers are telling us that they’re doing everything they can, and I’m sure they are but I mean there’s got to be something else that we can do, there’s got to be, there’s got to be, ‘cause he’s not a criminal, he’s not a bad guy, he’s not a danger to the community in any way whatsoever.
Reporter: ICE wouldn’t disclose when her husband will be deported. But Julio’s attorney believes it could be as soon as today.