DENVER – A U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement official respectfully declined to order a stop to his agents’ ongoing presence at Denver courthouses—something Denver’s officials called for in a letter to the agency in early April.
Matthew T. Albence, the Executive Associate Director at ICE, replied to the April 6 letter from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and other city officials on May 25. The mayor’s office received the reply Monday.
Albence says that courthouses are good places to track down people in the country illegally because “the safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased” by screening people entering the courthouses for weapons.
“In situations where the risk of injury to the public, alien, and the officer is significantly increased, because the alien can more readily access a weapon, resist arrest, or flee, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places,” Albence wrote.
The April 6 letter to ICE 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.
They took issue with 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.”
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 U.S. Department of Homeland Security also in April indicated it couldn't promise undocumented immigrants that they wouldn't be arrested if they appear in court either as a suspect or witness.
Denver’s leaders pointed to a 2011 ICE memo regarding enforcement actions at “sensitive locations” like churches and courthouses, among others.
But Albence brushed off their concerns in his reply letter, saying that everything ICE is doing is within their legal rights.
“I want to assure you that we will continue to be respectful of, and work closely with, the courts in carrying out the ICE mission,” he wrote.
He also noted that ICE officers are indeed law enforcement officers “who perform law enforcement duties, such as carry firearms, make arrests, serve warrants and conduct searches.”
“Therefore, ICE officers must continue to identify themselves as ‘police,’ as well as ‘ICE,’ so that they are recognizable as law enforcement authority,” Albence said.
Jenna Espinoza, the deputy communications director for the mayor’s office, says the office will continue to oppose ICE efforts at city courthouses.
“Enforcement actions that are taking place in sensitive locations, especially our courthouses, are causing fear in the heart of our immigrant community and are deterring people from cooperating in our local judicial system. While we appreciate the direct response to our letter, the City and County of Denver fundamentally disagrees with ICE’s approach to enforcement in and around our courthouses,” Espinoza said.
“We are pleased that ICE acknowledges and purports to abide by the Enforcement Actions at of Focused on Sensitive Locations memorandum of 2011, but believe courthouses, like schools, hospitals and places of worship, deserve special protection from immigration enforcement. Specifically, the 2011 memo lists locations that serve victims as sensitive locations. Our victim advocates work daily in the courthouse to provide services to victims.”
But Espinoza maintained that the city believes ICE is not adhering to the memo, something Albence claimed in his retort that the agency was doing.
“We again are simply asking ICE to abide by their own memorandum and recognize courthouses as places that serve victims and treat them as sensitive locations. We will continue to drive a clear and unwavering message to ICE that this is not the right approach and they need to find another route to enforcing immigration laws.”