Colo. officials try to calm immigrants' fears over possible arrest

Rosa Ramirez And Fernando Quintero, Rocky Mountain News
Copyright 2006 Denver Publishing Company

A new law that requires police to report any illegal immigrant they arrest to federal immigration authorities is causing confusion and widespread rumors in the Hispanic immigrant community.

Local Spanish-language radio stations have been inundated with calls this week from people concerned about the law, which was approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Owens.

Yesabeth Quezada, a disc jockey for La Buena Onda (1150-AM), said her station has received more than 100 calls from people worried about being questioned by police as they go about their day-to-day business, such as going to the library, sending their children to school, or applying for medical benefits.

Juan Marcos Gutierrez, Mexican general consul of Denver, said his office also has received numerous calls.

This concern comes just weeks after a nationwide roundup by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials of more than 1,110 workers for a wood pallet maker, including 38 locally, prompting more rumors of continued workplace raids and even checkpoints along major highways.

Gutierrez said most of the recent worries have been due to misinformation and confusion about the new "sanctuary law."

And much of it is because of reports about earlier versions of the bill that created the law.

At one time, the bill would have required any local official or government employee to tell ICE agents about anyone they suspected to be an illegal immigrant.

The final version of the bill - the one signed into law by Owens - was amended to apply just to police who arrest someone for offenses other than minor traffic violations and domestic violence.

The latter exception is meant to encourage victims to report abuse without having to worry about immigration hassles.

"The focus is when someone is arrested, not before they are arrested," said Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, co-sponsor of the bill.

Jeff Joseph, a Denver immigration attorney, said the potential for racial profiling is cause for concern, however.

"If you become a criminal suspect because of your accent or the color of your skin, you can bet that there will be lawsuits," he said.

Countered Wiens: "Enforcement of the laws of the U.S. and Colorado is in no way abuse."

Still, Joseph says the new law may have negative consequences.

"It has the potential to shift police priorities to go after people suspected of being in the country illegally, which are civil violations," he said. "In general, the new bill is a bad idea all around."

ICE officials declined to comment on the measure.

Gutierrez advises illegal immigrants to know their rights, including their right to notify the Mexican consulate if they are arrested so an attorney and family members can be contacted.

Gutierrez said the consulate receives an average of 40 calls and faxes each month informing it of arrests of Mexican nationals.


Key provisions of statute

* Local governments cannot create a policy that bars police from cooperating with federal officials concerning the status of any person in Colorado.

* Police must notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency if a person arrested for a crime is a suspected illegal immigrant.

* The law does not apply to those arrested for minor traffic infractions or suspicion of domestic violence. However, immigration officials must be told if a person is convicted of domestic violence.

* Cities and counties must notify local law enforcement officers in writing of their obligation to comply with the law.

* Cities and counties must file an annual report to the state regarding how many illegal immigrants they reported to immigration officials.

* Local governments that fail to report suspected illegal immigrants will not be eligible for state grants. 


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