New Numbers Show Jump In Contacts Between Denver Jails, ICE Officials

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<p>Hart Van Denburg/CPR News</p>
<p>The Denver County Jail on Smith Road.</p>
Photo: Denver County Jail 1
The Denver County Jail on Smith Road.

Federal immigration officials have stepped up enforcement in the Denver County Jail, according to new numbers given to city council.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement doubled their requests to be notified when undocumented immigrants leave the jail in the second quarter of 2018 compared to the first quarter. The number jumped from 42 times in the first quarter to 84 times in the second.

ICE notifications mean federal officials requested that local police tell them when certain people are being released from jail — either because they’ve served their time or have posted a cash bond.

Denver sheriff’s deputies, charged with running the jail, always comply with those notification requests, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Daria Serna.

This is the first year the numbers, the second quarter was furnished to city council members earlier in July, have been collected.

As part of the Public Safety and Priorities Act passed by city council and endorsed by Mayor Michael Hancock last August, a provision required local law enforcement to track how often ICE requests notification for jail releases.

City Council member Paul Lopez, who represents west Denver and has been outspoken against ICE’s presence in local courthouses and jails, said the numbers confirm his argument that immigration officials are not just focused on people who commit major crimes.

“It’s anybody and everybody and the numbers are showing that,” he said.

Lopez wants more time to see how the numbers change throughout 2018 before deciding what to do — one option is to disallow police officers from contacting ICE at all, even if they request it.

This idea was not something Hancock supported in 2017.

Lopez and City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, along with several immigrant rights activists, were hoping the city would go further last summer in cutting off contact between city officials and federal immigration authorities when they passed the public safety ordinance

They compromised to get it past the mayor’s desk, but Lopez said that doesn’t mean he won’t propose something stricter in the future.

“We could choose not to cooperate whatsoever,” Lopez said, noting Denver is being “courteous” by cooperating with ICE. “There is a limited contact under this ordinance … We’re not obligated to do this.”

The Trump administration has threatened to withhold federal money for Denver police if they don’t cooperate with federal officials in immigration enforcement. Hancock, along with dozens of other mayors, sued the administration over these threats.

The city is still awaiting some federal grants for training and equipment and is likely to join another lawsuit to get that money, said Hancock spokeswoman Amber Miller.

Federal immigration officials said their enforcement priorities in Denver, and elsewhere, haven’t changed. They said they continue to focus enforcement resources on people who pose a threat to national security or public safety — but do not exempt any classes or categories of undocumented immigrants from removal.

Denver sheriff’s officials say they give ICE agents anywhere between an hour to a day’s warning to get to the jail to pick up a suspected undocumented immigrant when they are released. Denver does not honor so-called detainers, which means they hold inmates at ICE’s request for longer than their sentences or after they’ve posted a bail — unless ICE has a warrant.