Denver Takes Steps To Shield Immigrants From ICE
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So the mayor of Denver is confronting federal immigration agents. The agents have gone to local courthouses to arrest people in the country illegally. Denver's mayor, Michael Hancock, first asked the agents to back off unless they have warrants. And then he moved to make their job harder. Here's Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry.
ALLISON SHERRY, BYLINE: Mayor Hancock is in a sort of cat-and-mouse game with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Denver's courthouse, where thousands of people visit every day dealing with civil and criminal matters. The mayor says he wants to help people avoid the place so that they're not targets of ICE agents who are roaming around.
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MICHAEL HANCOCK: Our actions are meant to do what we can to protect the individuals who are working hard every day, have their families here, trying to raise their families. Their children are in our school. And they are being productive members of our community.
SHERRY: This summer, Hancock and the City Council took a number of steps. They reduced jail sentences so that immigrants convicted of petty crimes don't get flagged for deportation. They let people plead to traffic offenses online so that they could avoid the courthouse altogether. And they allowed immigrants without legal status to wait in a private shelter across the street until it's time for them to appear in court. That way, they can avoid spending too much time in courthouse hallways in view of federal agents. Hans Meyer is a Denver immigration lawyer.
HANS MEYER: This doesn't stop ICE from doing its job. It just says you can't collude or co-opt or manipulate our local government.
SHERRY: Nine women in the last couple of months have declined to press charges in domestic violence cases for fear of alerting federal immigration agents that they're here. This is a big problem according to city officials, who worry immigrants will no longer trust local government and police. Federal agents have been a consistent presence at Denver's courthouse since the Trump administration began its crackdown on illegal immigration. Officials say they aren't going anywhere. They pointed out that courthouses are safer places for them to make arrests because visitors are screened for weapons. They told Hancock they're looking for people with criminal histories and not victims of crime, but that wasn't Fernando's story.
FERNANDO: They're just looking for an excuse to come and take you.
SHERRY: Fernando is a 23-year-old immigrant here illegally. He asked NPR not to use his last name because he fears anti-immigrant backlash. Last winter, Fernando got his car stuck in a snowstorm after he'd been drinking beers. He was cited for a misdemeanor traffic offense in Colorado. He paid fines. And when he went to visit his probation officer at the courthouse earlier this year, an ICE agent greeted him. Fernando is now in deportation proceedings.
FERNANDO: I have not ever asked anybody to give me anything or the government to help me out in anything other than let me work here because I made a mistake without injuring anybody. You're going to put me in a cell, labeled as a criminal, whereas I'm just trying to live my life better.
SHERRY: Nick Rogers, president of the Denver police union, said in an email that the mayor can run his city how he wants. But he added, there could be consequences. If he wants to ignore federal law, Rogers said, it's on him - he owns it. President Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that have policies to protect immigrants in the country illegally. Meanwhile, immigrant advocates want cities to do more for these residents, including adopting more sweeping sanctuary policies. But Hancock says he isn't into playing political games.
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HANCOCK: We're not sure calling ourselves a sanctuary city actually helps anyone. We don't want to give our residents any false hope.
SHERRY: Hancock says he wants to embrace practical policies that protect immigrants, rather than further inflame President Trump. For NPR News in Denver, I'm Allison Sherry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.