DENVER – Denver’s mayor, city council and legal representatives sent a letter Thursday to the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office requesting agents stay away from “sensitive locations,” including schools and courthouses, while performing their duties.
The letter asks ICE officials to stay in line with an October 2011 ICE memo called “Enforcement Actions at or Focused on Sensitive Locations” that agents “avoid unnecessarily alarming local communities” and to take caution and care when enforcing federal immigration law near the “sensitive locations.”
The letter was signed by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, every member of the Denver City Council, Denver County Court Presiding Judge Theresa Spahn, District Attorney Beth McCann, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson.
The letter points to several recent cases in which ICE agents were found in Denver’s main courthouse to arrest people, which “has and will increasingly lead to an environment of fear for victims and witnesses.”
“Already, we have victims of domestic violence refusing to come to court for fear of immigration consequences which results in violent criminals being released into the community,” the letter says. “Unless ICE has a criminal warrant, we respectfully request you consider courthouses sensitive locations and follow your own directive which states that particular care should be given to organizations assisting victims of crime.”
The chief Justice of the California Supreme Court sent a similar message to ICE on March 16.
And the letter also raises concern over ICE actions at Denver-area schools.
It notes a March 14 incident at the Colorado High School Charter, which is located in a neighborhood with a high immigrant population, in which ICE officials performed immigration actions near the school early in the morning.
“We believe this enforcement action, particularly because it was scheduled to occur during the morning drop-off period, may have violated both the letter and the spirit of your sensitive location policy,” the letter says.
It goes on to say that the ICE actions that day potentially put students, staff and parents in danger and alarmed the school’s principal and the nearby neighborhood’s residents.
“We are not aware of any exigency that would have required the enforcement action to occur at that location and at that hour,” the letter says. “We strongly urge ICE to refrain from future enforcement actions near schools in Denver that do no comport with the sensitive locations policy.”
The letter also notes that ICE agents’ uniforms, which says “POLICE” in large letters and “ICE” in smaller letter, may lead to “confusion and fear” within the community.
“The Denver Police Department has worked tirelessly to reassure the immigrant community that they should feel comfortable calling the police and reporting crimes,” it goes on to say. “Our local police rely on information and cooperation from our immigrant community to protect the entire city. Identifying yourselves as ‘police’ confuses and erodes the trust between our local police and the immigrant community.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday indicated it couldn't promise undocumented immigrants that they wouldn't be arrested if they appear in court either as a suspect or witness.
ICE has started putting out weekly updates targeting cities across the country that it says are “uncooperative” with President Donald Trump’s new immigration orders, the first of which targeted several cities in Colorado, including Denver.
It is part of an effort to strip federal funding so-called “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with ICE agents, though Boulder is the only Colorado city with an official proclamation on the books that it is a sanctuary city.
And Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently called out a case in Denver involving a spat between Denver Sheriff Department officials and ICE agents over the release of an undocumented immigrant in December who later allegedly killed a man.
And at least two Denver-area undocumented women have sought refuge at Denver churches to avoid deportation. Churches have also often been considered sensitive locations.
“This is a simple request for immigration officials to enforce federal laws while respecting sensitive areas so our residents can go about their daily lives,” Mayor Hancock said.
The City Attorney’s Office has experienced first-hand the chilling effect that enforcement actions in sensitive areas like local courthouses have on the willingness of victims and witnesses of violent crime to cooperate with the police and prosecutors,” said Bronson. “This is first and foremost a public safety issue, not just for our immigrant communities, but for all Denver residents.”
Denver7 has reached out to ICE’s Denver field office for comment on the letter, but has yet to receive a response.