GLENWOOD SPRINGS - A Colorado immigration rights group and Latinos in the lower Roaring Fork Valley circulated a petition Tuesday and Wednesday that "condemns" U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) and the Garfield County Sheriff's Office for an operation June 18 at Strawberry Days in Glenwood Springs.
The Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition (CIRC) said the petition was signed by organizers of numerous events, including Mountain Fair in Carbondale, and business operators "that cater to the Latino community."
The petition will be delivered to ICE and the Sheriff's Office as soon as possible, before more community festivals are held, the immigrants' rights group said.
"The hope of the local leaders is that ICE and the sheriff will hold off on further public displays of immigration enforcement in the Roaring Fork Valley and focus on methods that do not create fear and distrust in the communities they serve," a press release from the organization said.
The total number of individuals and organizations that signed the petition wasn't available Wednesday because workers were still circulating it in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, said CIRC spokesman Alan Kaplan.
The Basalt Town Council was asked by a handful of midvalley residents at its meeting Tuesday night to sign the petition. The council concluded it wouldn't be appropriate for a number of reasons, Mayor Leroy Duroux said.
First, the town has no power to tell a federal agency how to conduct its business, he said. In addition, the mayor felt that signing the petition might mark Basalt as a "target" for the agency. Finally, Duroux said, signing the petition could give Latinos a false sense of security that they cannot be arrested or detained on immigration issues at a public event in the town.
Basalt Councilman Peter McBride said it was clear the council majority didn't support arrests at public events, if they can be avoided. However, the council members said they didn't know all the details of the arrests at Strawberry Days in Glenwood Springs, so they didn't feel they could weigh in on the debate.
McBride said he and other council members told the concerned residents who approached them Tuesday night that they wouldn't allow their police department to make sweeps at public events and make arrests in front of family, children and friends when there is no pressing issue.
"We said we don't want that behavior to happen in Basalt," McBride said. Arrests should be made "in a more civil manner," he said.
However, Basalt Police Chief Roderick O'Connor told the council that ICE has the discretion of informing the police department or not when it undertakes an operation in Basalt.
"That's the federal government. They trump us," McBride said.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said, "Basalt can only control their own policies and their policies are solid."
Whitsitt said she told the concerned residents that they should form an organization that tracks and builds awareness about ICE procedures in the valley. The organization, she said, should include Anglos. She volunteered to help them set up the organization.
CIRC board member and midvalley resident Edgar Niebla said he understood the council's position, although he and the other Latinos who attended the meeting had hoped the board would sign the petition. Nevertheless, they appreciated the board's empathy for the residents' concerns.
"Hearing that from the Town Council was a big step for us," Niebla said.
The broader goal of the petition drive is to force ICE, and cooperating local agencies, to adhere to the federal agency's policies not to do raids "where children and families are present," Niebla said.
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations conducted a joint operation in Glenwood Springs with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office that resulted in the arrests of "three known gang members" - two on Saturday, June 18 at Strawberry Days and another on Tuesday, June 21, the agency said. One party was arrested on criminal charges, the other two are in ICE custody on immigration violations.
The CIRC petition says the raid works against efforts to attract tourist dollars to the Roaring Fork Valley and improve the economy. It claims news of the "irresponsible raid" spread among the Latino community quickly and threatens to keep people away from further festivals and public events in Garfield County and elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley. The raids "have created an environment of fear in the Hispanic and immigrant communities that will negatively impact businesses in the Valley for months if not years to come."
ICE said in an earlier statement that gang-related activities had been reported at previous Strawberry Days festivals. The arrest of the gang members was intended to make the event safer for families.
A statement by Carl Rusnok, ICE director of communications, Central Region, challenged CIRC's allegation that the raid was highly disruptive or created an atmosphere of fear for residents not wanted on criminal charges. ICE officials worked with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office to position an unmarked command post more than 400 yards from the festival area, Rusnok said.
"ICE agents arrested three gang members during the festival. No other arrests were made," Rusnok said. "The discrete positioning of the command post and the ICE agents was specifically designed to minimize disruption to those attending the festival, while also providing significant security to them at the same time."
Rusnok said he was unaware of the petition being circulated, so he couldn't immediately comment on it.
CIRC said signees included organizers of Mountain Fair, First Friday in Carbondale and Club Rotario in Glenwood Springs.
Jack Real, chairman of the Garfield County Democrats, signed the petition, according to CIRC. Garfield County businesses that signed the document included Gloria's, Valley Meats, La Perla Fashion, Garcia's Cafe, El Pollo Rico, El Horizonte Restaurant, Tortilleria la Roca, Mi Casita Restaurant and Tequilas Restaurant.