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Boulder councilman asks for city position on ICE fingerprint program

Oct 5th, 2010No Comments

Boulder councilman asks for city position on ICE fingerprint program
‘Secure Communities’ program IDs illegal immigrants after any arrest
By Heath Urie Camera Staff Writer

Posted: 10/04/2010 06:49:13 PM MDT

What: Boulder City Council meeting
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway

The Boulder City Council may, once again, jump into the national debate about immigration when it meets Tuesday night — this time to weigh whether the city should take a stance against a controversial program that uses fingerprints to identify illegal immigrants.

City Councilman Macon Cowles plans to ask the rest of the council to have its staff draft a recommendation about Boulder’s position on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s “Secure Communities” program.

The program — which has been operating for about two years in 32 states and will be operational nationwide within three years — requires local authorities to send fingerprints of people who are arrested on any charge to state police and the FBI for criminal background checks.

ICE is able to access the fingerprints that are sent to the FBI, and it checks them against a database of people known to be in the country illegally. ICE can then contact the local agency that arrested the suspect and order the person to be detained on immigration charges.

“While the program was originally directed at rounding up and deporting people who had committed serious crimes, in operation, the overwhelming majority of people processed under the program are folks who are stopped for very minor offenses,” Cowles wrote in a recent posting to the council’s public online hotline.

Cowles, who did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday, went on to criticize the ICE program, saying the department’s network of private contractors creates an incentive to detain as many people as possible.

“Large chunks of ICE detention facilities have been farmed out to private contractors who are paid by the day for each day that a person is detained in their facility,” Cowles wrote. “Thus, there is a strong incentive to build the census of people held in detention, and this may be done at a tremendous cost to local communities — disrupted families, workers who are no longer employed, but instead are in detention.”

Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE, said the department is focused on catching criminals, not making money for its contractors.

“Our mission is to remove as many serious criminals from the streets as possible,” he said. “The goal of the program is to make communities more secure.”

Colorado is not yet participating in the Secure Communities program.

Participation of all states and local agencies is expected beginning in 2013. While the program won’t mandate local governments to participate, the states and police departments rely on sharing information with the FBI for criminal background checks. Because ICE uses FBI data, the only way that a state could opt out of the program is by withholding fingerprints from the FBI.

Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter, said Monday that the governor is still weighing whether to allow Colorado agencies to participate prior to the nationwide rollout.

“We are considering whether to join the pilot program,” Dreyer said.

He said three communities, Denver, El Paso County and Arapahoe County, have already agreed to participate in Secure Communities if Colorado joins the pilot program. If Boulder didn’t want to participate in the pilot program, Dreyer said, it would not be required to.

Carl Castillo, Boulder’s policy adviser, said the council could handle a resolution about the Secure Communities program in any number of ways — ranging from outright opposing the program to urging the governor not to allow the state into the pilot program.

“Clearly, that’s a 100 percent political question that the council will have to wrestle with,” he said.

If Cowles follows through with his request, the council would debate it near the end of Tuesday night’s meeting. If the council agrees to support spending city resources on the matter, the public would be allowed to comment before it votes.

Immigration has been a hot-button topic for the Boulder council this year.

In May, the city manager put a stop to non-essential employee travel to Arizona. She said a controversial Arizona law that enabled police to check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants who were stopped for other offenses could put city employees at risk of persecution.

The City Council later backed off calls for Boulder to boycott businesses with ties to Arizona, and it declined to approve a resolution condemning Arizona’s immigration laws after receiving hundreds of angry letters and e-mails.

The city’s Human Relations Commission is now drafting a resolution about the city’s desire to have comprehensive reform of national immigration laws.

Mayor Susan Osborne has said that a “substantial piece” of the city’s legislative agenda for 2011 would focus on immigration issues.

Contact Camera staff writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328, or urieh@dailycamera.com[email protected]