Groups seek to sever school resource officers from ICE gang task force
September 27, 2011
Police officers whose duties include work as a school resource officer should be barred from collaborating with federal immigration enforcement officials, say a pair of immigrant rights groups that have called attention to the issue locally.
“Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion (AJUA) and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) would like to make clear our position, and lay out a vision of a Roaring Fork Re-1 School District that prohibits school resource officer (SRO) and immigration enforcement cooperation in all Re-1 schools,” the groups said in a joint statement issued Monday.
That would include SRO programs not only in Carbondale, but in Glenwood Springs and Basalt as well. Re-1 includes public schools in all three communities.
Last week, the groups accused Carbondale’s school resource officer of racially profiling Latino students and their families in his dual capacity assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Alvaro Agon, an officer with the Carbondale Police Department since 2008, had worked as a liaison with ICE’s anti-gang task force up until about six months ago, according to his attorney, Tom Adgate.
The relationship, which has since ended, was primarily focused on identifying possible gang activity and criminal wrongdoings, and was not directed at immigration enforcement, he said.
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But students involved with AJUA recently provided 28 written testimonies from students and parents to Carbondale police and local school officials saying the officer’s dual activities had crossed the line into identifying undocumented immigrants.
Agon, through his attorney, has denied the allegations. Adgate has pledged to file a defamation of character lawsuit against CIRC on Agon’s behalf, unless a public apology is issued.
CIRC attorney Richard Rosenblatt, in letter sent Monday to Adgate, said no such apology will be made.
“Over the past year, CIRC has been investigating complaints about Mr. Agon’s treatment of immigrant families in the Roaring Fork School District,” Rosenblatt writes in the letter, a copy of which was provided to the press.
“CIRC’s and AJUA’s statements to the media are based on information they have discovered during their investigation,” the letter reads. “Contrary to your request, CIRC and AJUA have nothing to apologize about.”
On a broader level, the groups claim that using school resource officers in a dual capacity with ICE has made students feel unsafe in schools.
“We believe that such an arrangement can lead to the presence, or perceived presence, of immigration enforcement agents within the schools,” the groups said in the Monday statement. “In a school district that is 52 percent Latino, it is in all of our best interest to ensure any barriers to participation are removed.
They suggest that the Re-1 school board adopt a policy prohibiting school resource officers, which the district partially funds, from assisting in federal immigration enforcement.
“Such a policy will serve to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, as is required by federal law,” the groups said. A letter stating their request was sent to Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall.
Haptonstall said Monday she had not yet received the letter, but would bring it before the school board when she does.
“We will certainly take a look at it,” she said. “I imagine it’s something we will want to discuss with the police chiefs, and make sure it’s not something that will impede their ability to assign officers (as SROs).”
The school district provides $15,000 each toward the SRO positions in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. Typically, the officers work a variety of other duties as well.
“I believe the police officers we’ve worked with have been good about separating their other jobs,” Haptonstall said.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said he has two officers splitting the SRO duties in Glenwood Springs schools.
As in Carbondale and other communities throughout the Western Slope, the SROs have been involved in the inter-agency anti-gang task force with ICE, Wilson said.
“It’s very regional in nature, involving several different departments,” he said. “They provide training, but our work is very limited in terms of being involved in [ICE] operations.”
Wilson said he supports the collaboration between the SROs and the task force, because one of the places gang activity can be a problem is in the schools, he said.
“Even if we don’t have a big problem, schools are exactly where we don’t want a small problem to become worse,” he said.
Through that work, if someone is found to be undocumented, ICE will put a detainer on them, Wilson added. But local police officers are not allowed to be directly involved at that level, he said.
“When you have good school resource officers and good school administrators, it’s handled very well,” he said.
CIRC and AJUA have asked that Carbondale’s officer Agon be removed from the SRO position and reassigned other duties.
“Due to the continued perception of some students and parents that Officer Agon still represents immigration enforcement … we believe he is not the right officer to be the SRO for Carbondale schools,” the groups said.
The groups are planning to host a public forum in the coming weeks to address the issue. A date, time and place has yet to be announced.