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Denver ICE To Continue “Chilling” Practice of Making Courthouse Arrests. (Plus, What Is a U Visa, and Could I Be Eligible?)

June 9, 2017|Contributed by: Jennifer Howard

In April, following the appearance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents near a charter high school in west Denver and at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in downtown Denver, Colorado, Mayor Hancock and a number of other city and county leaders sent a letter to the local ICE office requesting that the agency adhere to its established “sensitive location” policy and back off from arresting immigrants in Denver courthouses and around local schools so as to “avoid unnecessarily alarming local communities.” In the past, local ICE agents have operated under the agency’s 2011 guidance memo granting them discretion as to where to conduct enforcement actions, which typically meant that courthouses, schools, hospitals, and churches were off-limits to ICE raids and arrests.

However, in a response letter delivered to Denver officials earlier this week, ICE’s executive associate director stated that his agents will continue its recent practice under the new administration of making arrests at Denver’s courthouses, despite local officials’ request that they not do so. Courthouses, the agency says, are not considered “sensitive locations” under its guidelines; and the agency quotes as support for its recent and future attempts to make courthouse arrests, that “safety risks for the arresting officers and person[s] being arrested are substantially decreased” by this practice.

In related news, the current administration has vowed to withhold federal money from cities that it determines to be “sanctuary cities.” The term refers generally to those cities whose leaders have expressed and/or exercised resistance to federal pressure to help enforce immigration laws and policies. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also stated that immigration enforcement agencies cannot guarantee that immigrants living in the U.S. without status will not be arrested if they come forward as crime victims or witnesses, although this most recent letter from the local ICE office states that “when carrying out the immigration law enforcement mission, ICE remains sensitive to the needs of victims of crimes” and that “ICE operations are guided by [its] commitment to public safety.” Nevertheless, actions like these, city and county officials say, “are jeopardizing public safety by creating fear among immigrants,” in addition to increasing a “chilling effect” on witnesses and victims* reporting crimes and appearing for court hearings because they fear arrest and deportation by ICE agents. For this reason and others, the city of Denver looks to continue to stand for the safety of all of its residents, no matter their status.

*Under current law, immigrants who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been victims of certain criminal activity and who are helpful to law enforcement personnel in investigating and/or prosecuting those crimes are eligible for something called a U visa, which makes an initial grant of lawful status for 4 years and may be extended under certain, limited circumstances. The U visa was created by Congress in 2000 to allow victims and witnesses of crimes and their family members to feel safe to reach out, to report crimes, and to seek protection from law enforcement. In creating the U visa, Congress also strengthened the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex and labor trafficking, as well as other crimes. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime, you may be eligible for a U visa, and Joseph Law Firm can help you determine if you qualify for a U visa or for any other immigration benefits.

If you have questions about your immigration options or have specific concerns about ICE encounters at any upcoming criminal or civil court dates or hearings, and you are not already represented by Joseph Law Firm in your immigration matters, please contact our office at (303) 297-9171 or click here to schedule a consultation so we can review your case and your options. If you are already a client of Joseph Law Firm and have questions about your case, please contact your attorney to discuss your particular case.