Feds need local blessing to tell residents they are local authorities


Amid a crackdown that has seen nearly 700 foreign nationals arrested this month across the nation, the heads of three valley law enforcement agencies said Tuesday that, if approached by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they would not permit federal agents to tell people they are from a local police agency.

In an effort to apprehend someone or get a family member to talk, ICE agents are allowed to use such a ruse — residents tend to speak more freely with local authorities than federal agents, the thinking goes — provided the local agency acquiesces. That will not happen in Aspen and Pitkin County, and is unlikely to occur in Garfield County, local officials said.

“I’m not going to yield my authority to ICE,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo. “It puts us in a bad spot. They interact with our citizens and do something boneheaded, it erodes trust in the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. I want my community members to trust us, whether they’re illegal or not.”

An ICE agent recently approached a home in the Los Angeles area and announced that they were “police,” the Los Angeles Times reported. That is technically true, but ICE agents can only enforce federal law, whereas police officers and sheriff’s deputies enforce local and state laws. DiSalvo said such an announcement is disingenuous and that the person should have said they were a federal immigration agent.

“That’s like me going around saying I’m an FBI agent,” he said.

That this is an unsettling time for the immigrant community is an understatement. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is an arm, last week issued sweeping orders instructing all of its agents “to identify, capture and quickly deport every undocumented immigrant they encounter.” Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman from Texas, earlier this month met with ICE officials.

“After attending the ICE meeting it’s hard not to conclude that President Trump has started his mass deportation plan,” he wrote on Twitter.

Only so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who qualify for a federal deportation deferral program known as DACA, who have committed no offenses — even traffic tickets — nor have perceived affiliations with gangs, seem exempt, Castro wrote.

A Homeland Security fact sheet backs up that sentiment in a question-and-answer post:

“Will ICE deport people for driving without a license, since it’s often an immigration-related issue?”

“All of those in violation of immigration law may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” the answer says.

Immigration attorney Chris Pooley, who practices in Glenwood Springs and Avon, said that is a return to government policies before November 2014, when the Obama administration issued executive orders on the subject. The orders expanded the population eligible for the DACA program, prioritized deporting felons and not families, and required certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to temporarily stay in the United States without fear of deportation, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website says.

Trump has rescinded all but two of those orders, saying Dreamers, who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, “shouldn’t be very worried.”

“I do have a big heart,” he said in January. “We’re going to take care of everybody.”

The other order Trump isn’t touching is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, which remains tied up in the courts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June deadlocked on the issue.

Pooley said he has heard from residents interacting with ICE agents who did not disclose they were with the federal government. Regardless, he said he’s not worried about mass deportations.

“I discussed this with an ICE officer just last week,” he said. “What he told me is that ICE doesn’t have any more resources than they used to.”

While Trump’s campaign focused largely on deporting the some 11 million undocumented people here, Homeland Security has only enough agents, judges and immigration court staff to deport roughly 400,000 people a year, Pooley said.

Under Trump, “that hasn’t changed,” he said, adding that while the president wants to add 10,000 officers to Homeland Security’s current 20,000, “that’s going to take time.”

“The numbers are on your side if you’re here illegally,” Pooley said.

In his speech Tuesday night to both houses of Congress, Trump said the nation’s system of legal immigration needed to be reformed, as the status quo is costing America “many billions of dollars a year.”

But hours before his speech, he softened that stance, saying he was open to possibly granting legal status to millions of undocumented residents who have not committed serious crimes, angering hardliners who supported him for his deportation rhetoric. Trump “broke from his tough immigration stance and said he was open to the kind of broad overhaul that many Republicans and some of his core supporters have derided as ‘amnesty,’” The New York Times reported.

None of the local officials contacted for this story — DiSalvo, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario and Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor — said ICE representatives have asked them for permission to use their agencies’ names as part of investigations.

“I hadn’t heard of that,” Vallario said. “I might be asking some questions from a supervisor at ICE. Would this be a memorandum of understanding between agencies? Am I supposed to deputize them?”

He assigns three of his deputies to work with ICE’s Glenwood office and, like DiSalvo, said they do not have federal law enforcement authority and vice versa. The deputies occasionally accompany ICE agents in the field as part what is called the Threat Assessment Group, but the body is focused on illegal residents who are gang members and sharing intelligence about such people, Vallario said.

“We saw more and more gang members being booked into jail,” he said, calling the Threat Assessment Group a proactive force.

Asked if his department has seen more immigration policing based on Trump’s presidency, he said no. But a member of his department spoke to an ICE agent who said, “This is going to pick up.”

“I think that’s sort of a given,” Vallario said. “The president said he is going to enforce all of the laws.”

As to the impersonation issue, “I just wouldn’t be comfortable telling [ICE agents] to go out and be a Garfield County sheriff’s deputy,” he said.

Pryor said the ICE agents’ policy of identifying as a local peace officer “struck me as so unethical. … They should identify themselves as who they are.”

Citing a statement from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he said, “I think we all agree that these are our communities.”

“As police departments we are here to serve everyone, legal or illegal,” Pryor said. “As a police department, we do not want to damage our reputation. It’s so difficult to build up in the first place.”