Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement say a surge of its criminal alien program at the Aurora City Jail is a "routine operation," but the move has some citizens in an uproar over its potential implications.
The Enforcement and Removal Operation's (ERO) Denver bureau —an extension of ICE — is screening 100 percent of inmates arrested on criminal charges in Aurora in order to identify deportable aliens.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the operation began Wednesday and will continue through Tuesday. The surge will also include agents conducting thorough reviews of court summonses.
"ERO reviews summonses to target aliens who are fugitives, have been previously deported, or who have been convicted of crimes that align them with ICE Civil Immigration Enforcement priorities," ICE said in a statement.
Julie Gonzales , organizing director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition , said that with this surge ICE is creating an information dragnet.
"Every single summons represents a huge risk to community trust in law enforcement," said Gonzales at a rally Friday on the west steps of Aurora City Hall, where community members voiced their opposition to ICE's increased presence.
"A summons has a name, date of birth, address and a court day. At which point ICE could then utilize that information and do unwarranted raids on homes."
Gonzales said she believes that many in the immigrant community will now be reluctant to come forward if they're victims or witnesses to a crime, in part because of possible ramifications.
The Aurora Police Department said it does not run the Aurora City Jail, as it's a separate entity and has its own administrator.
"This is the first time that we were made aware of any type of ICE operation at the jail," said Sgt. Cassidee Carlson , a spokeswoman for the police department. "We don't have any knowledge, but I can say that it has not happened in Aurora before."
When asked whether the perception that the police are working with ICE agents will affect the department's relationship with the Latino community, Carlson said it's a chief concern.
"We as an agency have worked so hard to create quality relations with the Latino community to open the lines of communication," Carlson said. "We have no authority over immigration. We don't care about immigration status. Our primary purpose is to provide quality community service to our residents."
Gonzales said the surge is "Secure Communities on steroids," referring to the federal deportation program that works with state and local law enforcement agencies.
Secure Communities is currently operating in 2,304 jurisdictions. The Department of Homeland Security plans to expand this program to all law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide by 2013.
Last year, Denver, Arapahoe and El Paso counties began participating in a Secure Communities pilot program.
Through Secure Communities, in 2011 the agency removed 396,906 individuals nationwide and 519 in Colorado, according to ICE data.
Rusnok said no statistics on the number of deportable aliens pinpointed will be provided until the surge is complete.
Viva Colorado staff writer Laressa Watlington contributed to this report.