Carbondale chief reassures immigrants — ‘not looking for people to deport’
With the presidential election results leaving many immigrants and supporters uncertain what to expect, area law enforcement leaders are reassuring the community that they’re not out looking for people to deport.
During his campaign, President-elect Donald J. Trump gained support by taking a hard line against undocumented immigrants. Ramped-up deportation of people in the country illegally and building a wall along the country’s southern boarder were oft-repeated fixtures of his campaign.
Trump began his bid for the presidency by calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists, and he proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling took it upon himself after the election to put out a statement explaining local law enforcement’s role in federal immigration law.
“Since the recent presidential election there has been confusion and even fear from our Hispanic community,” Schilling wrote. “I want to let folks know that the Town of Carbondale’s stance, specifically within the police department, regarding immigration on the local level has not changed. We are not actively looking for people to deport.”
Schilling later told the Post Independent, “We are not federal immigration officers, and we don’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration law.”
Under state law, police are required to forward information to federal immigration agencies if it arrests someone who officers believe to be in the country illegally. But that doesn’t mean officers are required to look for that information, said the Carbondale chief.
Schilling said he put the statement out because “we don’t want crime victims thinking things changed with the election and not coming to police about crimes committed against them.”
While many news reports across the country covered acts of aggression against immigrants following the election, Schilling said his department has not received any such reports.
“We don’t want them to be scared to call us because of their immigration status,” said Schilling, who was concerned that some perpetrators would use a victim’s immigration status as an intimidation tactic to keep the person from reporting the crime.
“We have been working to strengthen the relationship with our community, including the Latino community,” Schilling wrote in his statement. “If someone is victimized, especially when dealing with crimes of violence, drug dealing and gang involvement, the Carbondale Police Department will enforce the laws to their full extent, regardless of immigration status.”
Other law enforcement representatives in Garfield County were on the same page as Schilling.
“We don’t enforce federal immigration laws, and when there are actions by federal agencies, we’re in basically a supporting role,” said Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson.
“We police people’s behaviors. We’re not in the business of policing their status or their beliefs,” he said. “When people don’t break the law they have very little contact with us.”
Wilson doubts whether Trump’s election will mean any change in immigration enforcement at the local level. “I don’t believe anyone should be too concerned or over-reactive in any direction.”
Wilson said that, over the years, he’s learned to “not put much stock in what you hear over the campaign season.”
There is nothing about the election that changes local enforcement unless there is a change in the law, he said.
Neither is the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office actively pursuing undocumented immigrants or holding them in the county jail for being in the country illegally, said the sheriff’s public information officer, Walter Stowe.
While the Garfield County jail used to hold undocumented immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that practice ended two or three years ago, said Stowe.
Likewise, Sgt. Sam Stewart, the acting Rifle police chief, and Cpl. Mike Kite of the Silt Police Department both said their departments have good rapport with the Hispanic community, and they don’t plan on changing enforcement tactics.