DENVER (AP) – A program that automatically checks the immigration status of all jail inmates in Colorado quietly went into effect this week following years of opposition and fears it could lead to deportation for otherwise minor offenses or ensnare crime victims.
The Department of Homeland Security’s “Secure Communities” program took effect Tuesday across all 64 Colorado counties. Under the program, sheriff’s departments and jail officials submit fingerprints of all inmates taken at the time of booking to federal officials for a check of immigration status.
Denver, Arapahoe and El Paso counties began participating in the program in February. Since then, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has identified about 5,000 illegal immigrants in Colorado, nearly 800 of whom were then deported or left the country voluntarily.
Of those now out of the country, 230 had been convicted of serious crimes such as murder and sexual assault, according to Homeland Security statistics. Secure Communities has been implemented in 46 states, as well as in parts of Alabama, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Maine has yet to implement the program, according to ICE.
The program has raised concerns among civil rights and immigrant rights advocates, including the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union, which said it documented three cases in Garfield County where women were detained by ICE after calling police to report domestic violence. The ACLU said the women were reported to ICE under a 2006 state law that requires law enforcement agencies to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities.
Virginia Urtusuastegui, 30, a housekeeper from Glenwood Springs, said she spent 13 days in detention last summer on an immigration violation after she called police for help during a violent dispute with her husband. She was arrested on a false reporting charge when she refused to cooperate with police for fear her husband would be arrested. She said she was released after her paperwork for a work visa was approved.
“To tell you the truth, I’m horrified of police,” Urtusuastegui said in Spanish.
Not every illegal immigrant reported to ICE will end up in deportation proceedings, said Washington-based ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas.
Once ICE learns someone is in the country illegally, agents and ICE prosecutors examine the case and determine if that person falls under their priorities for deportation, which include those who pose a threat to national security, multiple immigration violators, and convicted criminals. There also are provisions to protect victims of domestic violence and other crimes, Navas said.
By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press
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