ACLU challenges Vallario over immigrant arrest reports to ICE
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado says the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department is violating state law by immediately forwarding the names of immigrants arrested in domestic violence cases to federal immigration authorities.
The ACLU notes that domestic violence victims can sometimes be arrested when police are unsure who is at fault. While charges may later be dropped, placing themselves at risk for deportation will make undocumented immigrants less likely to seek police help in a domestic violence incident, the ACLU contends.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario calls the criticism a “slanderous lie.” He said while the law doesn’t require jail officials to report domestic violence suspects until their case is resolved, it does not prohibit such reporting.
Rather than trying to track the case outcomes for every immigrant arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, Vallario said anyone being booked at the county jail is assumed to be a defendant, and their information is passed along to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“When they come into the jail, they are a defendant. It’s not up to my jail staff to determine if they are a victim. They are being booked in as a defendant, and we notify ICE of any defendants believed to be foreign born,” Vallario said Tuesday.
The argument centers on differing interpretations of a state immigration policy law, Senate Bill 90, passed in 2006. Among other provisions, the law requires county sheriffs to report to ICE the booking into jail of any foreign person who does not have a proper visa or immigration papers.
But a 2008 amendment exempts county sheriffs from the mandatory reporting requirement when foreigners are arrested on domestic violence charges, until the person is actually convicted of a domestic violence offense.
Vallario reads the amendment as making reporting at the time of an arrest optional. The ACLU contends that the reporting is prohibited unless the person arrested is actually convicted.
To bolster its position, the ACLU cites a 2009 report by the State Auditor’s Office interpreting the domestic violence amendment as “illegal immigrants arrested for a suspected act of domestic violence are not to be reported to ICE until conviction.”
In a written release issued Tuesday, ACLU staff attorney Rebecca T. Wallace stated, “When undocumented victims of domestic violence are referred to ICE as a result of reporting the abuse to law enforcement, the signal to the undocumented population is clear. If you call the police to report domestic violence, you may end up being deported.”
Wallace said the ACLU worked with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition to investigate three cases of illegal immigrants booked into the Garfield County Jail following domestic violence incidents in the past two years.
“In each case, [jail staff] promptly reported the victims to ICE without waiting to see if the individuals were convicted of any charges,” the ACLU’s release states.
While the three women were later exonerated, ICE initiated deportation actions against them, the release said.
“In talking to these victims, they clearly and reasonably felt re-victimized by being sent into ICE detention simply because they had interacted with the police about the abuse,” Wallace said.
The ACLU notes that other county sheriffs follow the ACLU’s reading of the law. For example, the Summit County Sheriff’s Department uses an eight-page policy guideline with a decision tree to follow in deciding whether or when to report domestic violence arrests to ICE.
And on April 3, Mesa County Sheriff’s Lt. Brenda Apolinar issued a one-paragraph directive to Mesa County Jail booking technicians reversing the agency’s policy on reporting domestic violence suspects to ICE.
“You will no longer contact ICE as you have done in the past. You will contact ICE only when and if the individual is found guilty and convicted of the domestic violence charges,” her directive states.
Vallario said he is well-versed in the human dynamics of domestic violence and understands the “chilling effect” argument posed by the ACLU.
All victims of domestic violence are reluctant to call police, he said.
“The added concern that they could be deported, well, I can’t fix that. They are not in the country legally. I am complying with the law. I am being consistent, not picking and choosing,” Vallario said.
ACLU’s news release issued Tuesday comes three weeks after the organization sent Vallario a three-page letter calling on his department to comply with the state law’s domestic violence exception.
“We have not threatened legal action. That’s not the point,” Wallace said Tuesday. “We are asking the Garfield County sheriff, ‘Will you change your policy of auto-reporting to ICE?’ We urge him to do so, to follow the will of the Legislature and the will of the people, and as a way to make effective law enforcement.”
Vallario said he will have none of it.
“I beat them once before, I will beat them again,” he said of the ACLU, which tangled with him over inmate treatment in the county jail.
Vallario noted that within a matter of weeks, the federal Secure Communities Act will take effect statewide. Fingerprints taken from anyone booked into the county jail will be automatically sent to state and federal crime and immigration databases.
The shift will render the domestic violence exception a moot point, he said.
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