President-elect Donald Trump may have scaled back his campaign promise to deport all undocumented immigrants, but he's still gunning for many. His team now hints that local law enforcement may have to join in, which not all Colorado agencies are eager to do.
"What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million," Trump said on a post-election 60 Minutes appearance.
A 2013 Department of Homeland Security report estimates there's just about "1.9 million 'removable criminal aliens,'" in the country, some of whom are here legally. Removing all of them would overwhelm deportation courts, since the Constitution still requires due process. That said, removing undocumented immigrants with criminal entanglements was prioritized by the Obama administration that oversaw the deportation of nearly 3 million immigrants in the past eight years, about a third of whom fit Trump's description — though some had committed only petty or misdemeanor offenses.
Trump's proposal is still a departure, however, due both to the number of deportations proposed in a short timeline and way he plans to arrest people. Senior officials on Trump's transition team told The Los Angeles Times they're drafting plans to intensify the pursuit of immigrants by rounding up those charged or suspected — not just convicted — of crimes and by pressuring local agencies to help or risk losing federal funding.
No policy change compels that yet, but in this new post-election climate, some local law enforcement agencies are speaking out to reassure the public they won't suddenly start acting as de facto immigration officers. Denver and Aurora police departments were first to state they'll continue to abstain from involvement with immigration enforcement, which is a federal function. Colorado Springs Police Department has since joined them.
"Our protocol, and it has been for years, is we notify ICE of serious crimes in which we arrest undocumented people," says CSPD spokesman Lt. Howard Black, who clarified that "serious" is discretionary, but usually means crimes involving violence and/or drugs.
Not only do local cops lack the obligation and resources to take a more active role in immigration enforcement, he says, doing so could compromise public safety. "We don't want people to be victimized and not feel safe calling us," Black says. "We want to know when crimes are committed. Period."
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office, on the other hand, has a history of zeal for immigration enforcement. During disgraced former Sheriff Terry Maketa's tenure, the Office participated in a federal program in which deputies with ICE training were empowered to arrest, interrogate and detain non-citizens suspected of violating immigration law. In turn, the federal government paid the Sheriff's Office over $7 million since 2007 for holding immigrants, who were not charged with any other crime, at the county jail when other detention centers were full (despite the fact that the county jail was itself overcrowded.) When the Office terminated its participation in that program last year under current Sheriff Bill Elder, it was the last agency in the state to do so.
Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jackie Kirby says her agency still honors ICE detainers, but sheriff's deputies no longer issue such detainers themselves. As for what's to come, Kirby says, "It's premature to know what the new administration is going to do. Nothing changes until the law changes, but we're sworn to uphold the law so that's what we'll do."