A series of steps announced Tuesday through the Department of Homeland Security implementing President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration and border security sparked fear and concern in Boulder County, with officials slamming it as bad policy.
One of the stronger reactions came from Marta Valenzuela Moreno, executive director of El Comité de Longmont, a grassroots nonprofit focused on improving social justice, education and the economic status of Latino and non-Latino people throughout Longmont and Boulder County.
"I quite frankly don't know how is he able to go to sleep comfortably every night and wake up without remorse?" Valenzuela Moreno said. "He doesn't know what he is doing. He is very naive," and lacks an appreciation "for families that are struggling without health care, and without being able to access what they need."
The controversial measures rolled out Tuesday include greatly expanding the number of people living in the U.S. illegally who will be considered a priority for deportation, including those arrested for misdemeanors and even traffic violations.
Another directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with the Border Patrol, to start reviving a program that recruits local police and sheriff's deputies to help with deportation. That initiative, knows as the 287(g) program, had been scaled back under President Barack Obama.
A devastating fear
Brandt Milstein, a Boulder attorney who represents immigrant workers in labor and civil rights cases, described the new measures as "terrifying."
Milstein said, "I think the big picture is that it's heartbreaking that a country of immigrants is treating immigrants in this incredibly harsh way. Because the reality is that this kind of enforcement means that young children will be rightfully terrified that their mother or father or both won't return from work one day or will be not there when the kids get home from school.
"And that's devastating to a family," Milstein said. "The fear of that happening is devastating, and the reality of that happening is devastating, and I think it's incumbent on all of us to prevent that from occurring and take all the steps we can to prevent these horrific policies."
Boulder, which last month declared itself a sanctuary city, will not participate in the 287(g) program, according to a statement released by city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said that in the past, to his knowledge, only two counties in Colorado took part in that program, El Paso and Garfield counties.
"It requires sending people to Georgia for four weeks for training, and then it requires jail capacity inspections by a federal authorities, and then they would have a contract with the jail and the deputies themselves would do the ICE investigations and detain the people," Pelle said. "It wasn't a big hit."
Due to chronic overcrowding at the Boulder County Jail, Boulder County would never be approved to participate in the program, Pelle said. Not that he would want it to.
Pelle attended a meeting Monday night in Longmont at which representatives of the Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition talked about what was about to be announced by Homeland Security. He said some community members were "tearful and in fear" at that meeting.
"There was a family there, a mother and two daughters," Pelle said. "Her husband had been deported, and now the mom's worried about being deported and leaving her kids behind, that were born in this country."
'Comprehensive' reform called for
A heavy-handed approach to immigration enforcement, and pressing local law enforcement into that duty, Pelle said, is not the best approach.
"What I hear from this administration is demonizing of the immigrant community, and what I know is they're four to five times less likely to have law enforcement contact or get in trouble with the law, because they are just trying to make a living and stay under the radar," Pelle said.
"I do not want to be in the immigration business and I don't want my office to be in the immigration business. We need to build as much trust as possible within the immigrant community and protect them from crime. The last thing I want if for a victim of domestic violence to be afraid to call us because of their immigration status."
District Attorney Stan Garnett agreed with Pelle that it is critical that members of the immigrant community in Boulder County feel safe in calling police if they are victims of, or witnesses to, a crime; and he called all aspects of Tuesday's rules announcement both "troubling" and bad for local law enforcement.
"What this country really needs and has needed for a long time is comprehensive immigration reform. To accomplish that, the president has to get a proposal through both through both houses of Congress and sign it," Garnett said. "There hasn't been meaningful immigration reform since the Reagan reform of the mid '80s, which was very progressive and accomplished a lot in terms of clarifying the laws around immigration, and also helping deserving immigrants find a path to citizenship."
Absent such reform being passed by Congress, Garnett said, "You end up with things like executive orders from the president, or in this case, I believe, a memo or order from Homeland Security.
"This is a statement of priorities of that agency. That is not legislation. It is not a comprehensive approach to trying to solve the issues. It is simply one person's opinion."
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, email@example.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan
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