Colorado has a serious problem with thousands of illegal aliens who cycle through our jail system and encounter local law enforcement in traffic stops but are seldom referred to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) for possible deportation.
The problem is not that the system is broken. The problem is that there is no system.
State lawmakers have enacted only weak palliatives that are further diluted through lax enforcement. The bills passed in the July 2006 special session of the Legislature have yet to be seriously enforced, and the 2003 Secure and Verifiable ID Act never has been applied to all state agencies and benefits.
And what is Gov. Bill Ritter’s response? He has appointed a new committee to study the problem — an Immigration Working Group. The first question the new IWG should answer is this: If current laws are not being enforced, what value would there be in passing new laws?
Senate Bill 06-090, enacted in 2006, removed obstacles police have faced in contacting ICE when they have probable cause to believe an alleged offender is in the country illegally. In the Aurora incident, the illegal alien charged with the crime already had been arrested 16 times and had been in custody twice (in Denver and in Aurora) but never had been referred to ICE. Most of his arrests were for traffic violations, and calls to ICE from patrol cars are unlikely to identify a person as an illegal alien if he has no prior deportations and no felony warrants.
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), the state agency charged with monitoring and enforcing SB 06-090, reports that Denver made only 2,088 reports to ICE in 2007. Of that total, 1,979 (95 percent) were contacts by the county jail, not by Denver police. But 2,088 is not a large number in the context of 18,117 total jail bookings and a metro Denver illegal alien population of more than 75,000.
Only a trained ICE agent who interviews a suspect in jail can determine that person’s immigration status with any certainty. That’s why cities and counties across the country are turning to the federal “287(g) authority” to deal with the problem. A 287(g) agreement with ICE allows sheriff deputies who staff the jail to be trained and deputized to conduct interviews and place immigration holds on suspects.
A full legislative audit of compliance with SB 06-090 is needed to discover if the legislative intent is being accomplished. However, full implementation of that law is only one tool in controlling illegal alien crime. It is painfully clear that we need other measures as well.
Here are some proposals that can help get the debate headed in the right direction:
1. If a person is driving with a foreign driver’s license that can’t be verified or with no valid ID whatsoever, that should be “probable cause” for an arrest and a referral to ICE. Immigration status can be determined only after a suspect is arrested, his true identity is established and his “rap sheet” is examined.
2. All second-offense DUI violators who have no valid driver’s license or a foreign license that cannot be verified — no matter whether the license is from Canada, Germany, Mexico or wherever — ought to be taken into custody and held for up to 72 hours of scrutiny by ICE.
3. Under current law, any foreign driver’s license is invalid after 90 days if a person takes up employment in Colorado. Yet, law enforcement agencies — and courts — routinely ignore that part of the law. That loophole must be closed, perhaps by requiring all persons intending to use a foreign driver’s license to have that document validated by Department of Motor Vehicles and stamped with an expiration date.
4. The state should triple the size of the Colorado State Patrol’s immigration enforcement unit, taking it from 22 to 66 troopers and expanding its mandate beyond the crime of human trafficking. Formed in 2006, the unit has achieved solid success in its first year but needs three times that manpower to adequately cover even the state’s major highway corridors.
Colorado could easily triple the number of criminal aliens deported out of Colorado’s local jails through a working partnership with the federal ICE agency in the form of 287(g) contracts. Arapahoe County and several other Front Range counties are giving that idea serious consideration. The state should support such agreements by covering their upfront training costs.
There is much Colorado lawmakers can do to make Colorado less attractive to criminal aliens — and to assure that the ones already here are deported. What we can’t afford to do is continue to blame the federal government or wait for it to secure the borders. If the governor will not lead this effort, others will surely step forward.
Denver native Tom Tancredo, a Republican, is retiring from Congress at the end of his term after 10 years representing Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.