Sheriff picked for immigration work group |

Sheriff picked for immigration work group

Pete Fowler
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Expecting federal authorities to solve the illegal immigration problem that has taken decades to create is “like handing the captain of the Titanic a Dixie cup and saying, ‘Dry out the boat,'” said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario.

Nevertheless, Vallario, like Gov. Bill Ritter and others, says that the federal government must ultimately fix the broken system. But in the meantime Colorado is among the states grappling to take matters into their own hands.

Vallario and other sheriffs and police chiefs say they have no authority to enforce federal immigration laws and don’t want to jeopardize relationships with communities of illegal immigrants because that could cause crimes to go unreported and reduce public safety. Plus, Vallario said, it’s not as if Garfield County deputies have the legal authority or resources to transport illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin or control the U.S. border with Mexico.

Vallario was picked as one of about five Colorado sheriffs to participate in a state immigration work group. The group was formed after Ritter asked the state Department of Public Safety Executive Director Peter Weir in a Sept. 12 letter to form a group to review problems and possible solutions in immigration enforcement. The letter came after two accidents in Aurora.

In one of them, Francis M. Hernandez allegedly caused an accident at a suburban Denver ice cream shop Sept. 4 that killed three people including a 3-year-old boy. Hernandez, of Guatemala, reportedly had 12 aliases and two dates of birth and said he was born in California. He was arrested over 12 times since 2003 by nine different Colorado police departments, but he managed to avoid any challenges to his suspected illegal immigrant status.

Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokesman Lance Clem said the sheriffs were picked for the work group in large part due to their locations along corridors known for human trafficking or other issues related to illegal immigrants.

“These are sheriff’s who’ve had a significant role in dealing with this issue,” Clem said.

He said CBI is discussing a system to notify local law enforcement who contact someone that has provided inconsistent personal information.

The immigration work group met for its fourth time Thursday and will meet again on Monday and possibly another time before delivering a report and recommendations to the Legislature by the end of the year. So far, the group of over 20 individuals from law enforcement and state officials has mostly shared information about their respective challenges. Monday’s meeting is expected to be a brainstorming session for the recommendations.

Ritter’s letter identified the two main difficulties local law enforcement faces as figuring out what someone’s immigration status is and ensuring that people here illegally are turned over to federal authorities for detention or deportation.

Vallario said much of the problem is because someone picked up by law enforcement who doesn’t have an ID self-reports their nationality, and even trying to match fingerprints to existing records doesn’t always solve things. To further complicate matters, many people who are deported just return to the U.S., he added.

One of the reasons he was probably picked for the immigration work group was because of his disagreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement over Tasers at the Garfield County Jail, Vallario said.

ICE pulled its contract to hold suspected illegal immigrants at the jail in late 2007.

Vallario said local ICE officials had no issues but ICE officials in Washington rated the jail unacceptable because of its use of Tasers and a pending American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit alleging excessive use of force involving Tasers.

Vallario said he can’t allow an outside agency to dictate policies at the jail, and situations may arise where jail staff needs to use a Taser for protection without distinguishing between a suspected illegal immigrant and the rest of the jail population.

“We want to work with them,” Vallario said. “But ICE has some of these overarching policies they want to apply to every jail.”

He emphasized that the local ICE agents do an excellent job and ICE in general can’t be blamed for the illegal immigration problem. But he said part of his message at the work group was that if ICE needs jail space and help from local agencies, perhaps it should make more of an effort to work with them.

Vallario said one of the group’s recommendations could be getting more deputies at some of the larger Colorado jails federal immigration authority under the 287g program. That basically deputizes local law enforcement agents as federal immigration officers and could help ICE operate more efficiently.

Colorado also needs to spend resources directing its elected officials to push for change and solutions in Washington, D.C., Vallario said.

Federal officials “need to do a better job controlling how people get in and out of the country,” Vallario said.

Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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