Report: ICE plans to target Denver, other ‘sanctuary cities’ for immigration enforcement

Mayor Michael Hancock’s office calls news ‘disturbing’

By: - October 1, 2020 11:34 am
July 18 protest

People gather outside the Aurora Contract Detention Facility on July 18, 2020, at a protest organized by Abolish ICE Denver. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Citing anonymous officials, the Washington Post reported Sept. 29 that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was planning an “immigration enforcement blitz” in several so-called “sanctuary cities” — including Denver — that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

The operation could begin in California as soon as this week, the Post reported, and then expand to other cities including Denver and Philadelphia.


Two officials told the Post that Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, “probably will travel to at least one of the jurisdictions where the operation will take place” to underline President Donald Trump’s campaign theme that Democratic city leaders “have failed to protect residents from dangerous criminals,” the Post reported.

An ICE spokesperson told Colorado Newsline via email that the agency does not comment “on any law enforcement sensitive issues that may adversely impact our officers and the public.”

Every day as part of routine operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement targets and arrests criminal aliens and other individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws.

– ICE spokesperson to Newsline

“However, every day as part of routine operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targets and arrests criminal aliens and other individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws,” the spokesperson said. “Generally speaking, as ICE has noted for years, in jurisdictions where cooperation does not exist and ICE is not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, ICE is forced to arrest at-large criminal aliens out in the communities instead of under the safe confines of a jail.”

In 2017, Denver City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting city and county employees from assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration laws or requesting a person’s immigration status. The ordinance also bars ICE agents from using any city or county property to enforce immigration laws.

The same year, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock signed an executive order creating a legal defense fund for people threatened with deportation, who aren’t automatically provided with free legal representation like criminal defendants.

ICE has pushed back against Denver’s ordinance, including through successful court subpoenas of information on people who’d been jailed.

Acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf. (

“We have heard rumors of these threats before and coming so close to an election, it is disturbing,” Hancock’s spokesperson, Theresa Marchetta, said in an emailed statement when asked for comment on the Washington Post’s report. “Denver’s ordinance is framed so it does not violate federal law or protect criminals.”

Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis, called the report “concerning.”

“In Colorado, we value and respect our immigrant community,” Cahill said in an email. “This is another weak attempt to divide us. The President failed to fix our broken immigration system and has wasted his presidency creating fear and his actions are making our communities less safe.”

Most Colorado counties do not cooperate with ICE agents by arresting or detaining people for violating immigration laws. Through so-called ICE detainers, counties hold in jail people suspected of being undocumented up to 48 hours longer than they would have otherwise been jailed, until ICE can assume custody of the person.

Colorado House Bill 19-1124, signed into law by Polis last year, prohibited ICE detainers. The bill doesn’t go as far as preventing counties from entering 287(g) agreements with the federal agency, a provision Polis opposed.

Teller County is the sole Colorado county that’s part of ICE’s 287(g) Program, which allows deputies to perform immigration enforcement activities.

HB-1124 — sponsored by state Reps. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City, and Susan Lontine, D-Denver — also prohibits a probation officer or probation department employee from providing an individual’s personal information to federal immigration authorities, and requires law enforcement officers coordinating interviews between ICE agents and people in their custody to advise those people of their constitutional rights.

ICE has lambasted the law as a “sanctuary law” and says it puts public safety at risk.

But Benavidez says the law simply codified existing case law in Colorado, relying on a ruling out of El Paso County District Court that stopped that county sheriff’s office from holding people longer than their jail sentence on behalf of ICE.

“If you were in jail and you served your sentence or paid your bond and you were eligible to be released, you should be released,” Benavidez said.

Under case law and Colorado statute, Benavidez explained, there’s no basis for detaining someone based solely on an immigration violation, which is a civil offense.

“Now, if ICE felt these individuals had violated a criminal law, they could bring a signed warrant issued by a judge, just like a neighboring state … saying, ‘We need this person released to us because we have a warrant for them for this alleged criminal violation,'” she added. “ICE refuses to do that and then they want to complain that no one is cooperating with them.”

She sees the plans for expanded ICE enforcement as nothing more than a political maneuver by the Trump administration.

“I think Trump is worried that he is not going to be elected, and he’s trying to firm up his base by throwing them some red meat,” Benavidez said. “But voters see through that.”

In an emailed statement, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) Action Fund called the rumored arrests a “well known tactic by the Trump Administration to intimidate cities who are protecting our immigrant communities, especially as we get closer to Election Day.”

CIRC Action Fund advocates for immigrant-friendly policy, endorses pro-immigrant candidates, and encourages civic participation among immigrants and their families.

“We have seen the administration use this fear mongering tactic over and over again — they announced these raids last summer and again as we enter a global pandemic,” the statement continued. “People have been and are still getting arrested, detained and deported — most of them without access to legal representation … Now more than ever, we must uplift and support our immigrant communities, not criminalize them for wanting to provide a better future for their family.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include remarks from Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a statement from CIRC Action Fund and a statement from Gov. Jared Polis.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.