ICE arrests 63 in Denver during operation targeting 'sanctuary cities,' but city pushes back

DENVER – Immigration agents arrested 63 people in Denver as part of a four-day operation that netted nearly 500 arrests in cities federal officials say are “sanctuary” cities, despite Denver’s claim it isn’t a sanctuary city.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the operation, dubbed Operation “Safe City,” “focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored.” The four-day operation wrapped up Wednesday.

The office of Mayor Michael Hancock said it was not made aware of the ICE sweep, and pushed back at some of the agency’s claims that Denver is a “sanctuary city.”

Denver has made it clear that ICE needs to obtain a criminal warrant before an immigration detainer is granted (doing otherwise has been ruled unconstitutional in several courts, something Denver authorities have noted on several occasions), and that it does honor notification of release requests from ICE. The mayor’s office also said that the local ICE office “has not asked to conduct an in-person interview in the Denver jails for quite some time.”

“They can conduct interviews by phone/video visitation, which is their common practice,” a spokesperson told Denver7.

ICE says Operation Safe City targeted people who’d violated immigration laws and prioritized people with convictions or pending charges, known gang members, and immigration fugitives.

“Individuals with active DACA were not targeted for arrest,” a press release from ICE said.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” said ICE Acting Director Tom Homan in a written statement. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

Though ICE did not detail the cases of all those arrested, it said that one of the arrests in Denver was of a lawful permanent U.S. resident from Guatemala who’d been convicted of menacing, several DUIs, child abuse and domestic violence.

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the Department of Justice couldn’t withhold federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary cities,” though the DOJ has appealed.

Mayor Hancock in the past several weeks signed a new immigration ordinance passed by the city council that prohibits city employees from collecting information on people’s immigration status and the sharing of that information for the purpose of federal immigration enforcement.

It also reinforced the notification rules for the Denver Sheriff Department to notify ICE of pending releases “to the extent they are able.”

During the operation this week, Denver was among the cities that saw the highest number of arrests. Los Angeles saw 101 people arrested, while 107 were arrested in Philadelphia. By comparison, 45 people were arrested in the entire state of New York, and 50 were arrested in Massachusetts.

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