A group of immigration activists who protested at the state Capitol this week and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle have something in common.
They both want Colorado’s version of Arizona’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants overturned.
SB 90, passed by the state legislature in 2006, requires police officers to report suspected undocumented foreigners who are arrested on a criminal offense to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The law has elicited protest from the immigrants’ rights community, which claims that it forces officers to resort to racial profiling when making the determination of whether to report someone to ICE. The Colorado law wasn’t quite as expansive as the 2010 Arizona version, SB 1070, which authorized officers to not only check “papers” and judge someone’s citizenship status upon arrest, but during “lawful stops” and “detentions.”
Still, a delegation calling itself “Americans-in-Waiting” stopped at the state Capitol in Denver on July 31 to protest Colorado’s SB 90. It was the second stop on a national tour called “No Papers, No Fear Ride for Justice.” At the group’s first stop — in Phoenix to protest against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s alleged racial profiling — four protesters were arrested July 24 during what they described as a peaceful disobedience action outside the sheriff ’s trial.
While it may be for different reasons than the immigration activists, Boulder County’s own sheriff agrees that Colorado’s version of the law is unnecessary. Pelle told Boulder Weekly that, given the statewide implementation of the Secure Communities program in May, SB 90 is redundant because Secure Communities requires the fingerprints of every arrested person to be submitted to ICE for a citizenship check. It removes the guesswork for law enforcement, because all are treated equally, Pelle says.
If all arrestees’ fingerprints are now submitted to ICE under Secure Communities, he explains, there is no longer any need for officers to attempt to determine citizenship according to SB 90.
“It’s so we’re not making decisions based on people’s skin color or language or English skills,” Pelle says. “The other thing I like about [Secure Communities] is —maybe they’re from Canada or Burma or Australia — it treats everyone the same.”
It’s now superfluous to have the subjective, judgment-based process for law enforcement required under SB 90, he says.
“Now that Secure Communities is here, I would like to see the reporting requirement lifted from county jails, because Secure Communities automatically takes care of the reporting, and does it in an unbiased, totally fair way. … The efforts are being duplicated. My hope is that if Secure Communities remains in effect, maybe we could get rid of Senate Bill 90.”
Pelle has also said that Secure Communities could head off any effort to bring an Arizona-like law to Colorado, a move that he and the head of a statewide sheriffs’ association have said they oppose because it asks deputies to serve as immigration officers, which is beyond their purview.
Secure Communities had been used as a pilot program in a few Colorado counties since former Gov. Bill Ritter announced in 2011 that Colorado would become one of the 35 states using the program nationally. (The Boulder County commissioners objected to the move.)
The program has been controversial, in part because of concerns that it could have a chilling effect on undocumented immigrants’ willingness to report crimes, especially victims of domestic violence, who are often arrested when there are no witnesses or when both parties have injuries and it is unclear who was the perpetrator.
To its credit on that front, Colorado’s SB 90 had an exception for domestic violence cases: Suspected undocumented immigrants arrested on charges of domestic violence were not reported to ICE until conviction.
But the law did not require counties to provide that exception, and Boulder County doesn’t delay reporting to ICE in domestic violence cases, Pelle says, in part because about 90 percent of all such offenders are no longer in custody at the time of their conviction, in most cases because they are out on bond. He has said that law enforcement agencies would have to set up a separate tracking system just for suspects to have their fingerprints sent to ICE at the time of conviction rather than the time of arrest.
Pelle says the statewide implementation of Secure Communities was painless for Boulder County because the sheriff ’s office already sends fingerprints of all those arrested to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and it’s CBI that’s sending the prints to ICE.
“It doesn’t impact us at all,” he says.
“There’s nothing on our end we do or see differently. … There’s no opting in or out, there’s no equipment, there’s no extra work, nothing. It’s unseen and unknown to us that this is occurring. It doesn’t make any difference in booking time or anything else.”
Pelle adds that under Secure Communities, he hasn’t yet seen any spike in the number of “detainers” that ICE is placing on suspected undocumented immigrants who are arrested.
(In the case of a “detainer,” as a courtesy to ICE, the sheriff ’s office will keep a suspect in jail up to 48 additional hours past the point they are due to be released, giving an ICE agent the opportunity to interview those suspected of being in the country illegally.) Deputies only report about 10 percent of arrestees to ICE as required under SB 90, and of those, only 100 to 200 are placed on a detainer by ICE, Pelle says.
He adds that the practice of reporting those suspected of being undocumented immigrants to ICE was not new to Boulder County when SB 90 passed in 2006; it has been a practice the sheriff ’s office began more than two decades ago, under former Sheriff George Epp.