Latino community prepares for the worst with changing immigration enforcement

Feb 15, 2017

Credit Aspen Public Radio News

This past week, immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented people across the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said this is nothing out of the ordinary.

Still, fears are flaring up across the nation, and the Roaring Fork Valley is no different.


On a recent Sunday afternoon, a basement classroom at Bridges High School was so packed, people hovered around the doorways to listen. The crowd was thinnest at the front of the room, where Jennifer Smith stood; she’s an immigration attorney in Glenwood Springs. The names of state senators, their numbers, hotlines and websites were scrawled on the whiteboard behind her in green marker.  


A woman with a little boy in her lap spoke up. If she’s deported, she asked if her 18-year-old daughter could take legal responsibility of the boy. The daughter is also undocumented.


“You need to think through the fact that your daughter may not be able to stay in the country either, so you might need to find someone else,” Smith said.


Several feet from the woman, a middle-aged man sat with his back against the wall. He picked and picked at a scab on his thumb, and jostled his knees back and forth. His name is Javier; he lives in Carbondale and works in construction.


“Imagine you’re somewhere and your family is somewhere else. That’s the fear,” he said, but it’s more than just fear, he added. “It’s like a psychosis.”


ICE raids have been in the news a lot lately, and Javier came to this meeting to quell his fears and get more information. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has long had a field office in Glenwood. One woman wanted to know if they’d been more active recently.  


“I haven’t heard stories yet, but will that happen? I believe it will happen,” said Smith.


On Jan. 25, President Trump signed an executive order on immigration, calling for more immigration officials and for local and state police to arrest those in the country illegally.


Under President Obama, there certainly were ICE raids and deportations, although Pitkin County’s Sheriff, Joe DiSalvo, remembers the last one in Pitkin County was decades ago. DiSalvo thinks Trump’s election has ushered in a new wave of paranoia. He has been clear all along that his job is not to enforce immigration law.


“If ICE were to come into Pitkin County and were to scoop up 10 illegal aliens,” DiSalvo said, “I probably wouldn’t let them into my jail.”


If there’s no warrant for these peoples’ arrests, nothing signed by a judge, then DiSalvo doesn’t want anything to do with it. He doesn’t want to be a “storehouse” for ICE, because he knows what that’s like. In the 1990s, he would frequently have someone who was accused of “no crime, sitting in jail just for being here illegally.” This clogged up the jail.


“It’s not a place I want to go back to,” DiSalvo said about that time period.


Even if he wanted to go back, he couldn’t. Several courts have ruled that it’s a violation of the 4th Amendment to hold someone on an ICE detainer alone because it is not a judicially reviewed warrant. Even if a judge did issue a warrant, ICE and local law enforcement don’t always see eye-to-eye.


“ICE would like, under their detainers, for us to hold them for 48 hours beyond the completion of their state charge time, strictly for the convenience of ICE,” said Chris Johnson of the County Sheriffs of Colorado. The state’s sheriffs cooperate with ICE fully, Johnson claimed. They tell them who’s in their jail, and they notify them when they’re set to be released. If ICE isn’t there to pick them up, it’s on ICE.


Back at the high school, one man speaks up, saying he’s feeling scared, and then asks if the community can go and protest.


“I think at this point it’s a full-court press, we do everything we can,” said Jennifer Smith. She called the meeting, and it was advertised on La Tricolor, which is the local, Spanish language radio station.


Days before the meeting, there was a threat which closed schools throughout the valley. It was obvious some of the parents there in the basement of Bridges High School had thought it was immigration coming for their children.


Smith said the gathering went well, but people need to know it’s up to them to know their rights. What they don’t know can easily be used against them.


If ICE comes knocking on someone’s door, the people inside can refuse to open it. If they do open the door, ICE has the authority to enter and question anyone they want. They can stop people on the street and ask questions, like any police officer can.


“And I think that what it creates is a sense of panic and fear in the community,” said Smith.


This results in disengagement, which, Smith thinks, makes everyone less safe.


“I mean, if they don’t feel safe calling the police, that is not great for any of us,” she said.