Eagle Co. lets illegal immigrants go | AspenTimes.com

Eagle Co. lets illegal immigrants go

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” More than two dozen illegal immigrants have been let go since Friday because federal immigration agents failed to respond to calls to pick them up, Eagle County sheriff’s deputies said.

Eagle County sheriff’s deputies talked to two vans of illegal immigrants Friday and another van was pulled over Sunday on Interstate 70. The majority of the people, who said they were illegal immigrants, were let go after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement either said the agency was not available or did not respond to calls to pick them up, sheriff’s deputies said.

Immigration and Customs had “no such information” about any such vans, said spokesman Carl Rusnok, though he declined to elaborate on specifics.

“It seems as though someone provided inaccurate information to you,” Rusnok wrote in an e-mail.

Asked whether he was saying that the Sheriff’s Office had lied about contacting Immigration and Customs, Rusnok said “of course not.”

Normally, the agency determines whether suspects being held by local police are illegal immigrants, Rusnok said. If they were illegal immigrants, Immigration and Customs would detain them and deport them, Rusnok said.

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Sheriff’s deputies said they cannot enforce federal immigration laws, nor can they detain illegal immigrants for traffic violations in the Eagle County jail.

The jail is overcrowded, so only those arrested on suspicion of a felony, domestic violence, arrested on warrants and restraining order violations, and those police deem to be a danger to the public or themselves are jailed, authorities have said.

“There’s nothing we can do to enforce that other than contact immigration,” Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Hall said.

The first incident happened early Friday morning, when eight men and two women who said they were illegal immigrants were traveling in a van from Phoenix to Denver to find work, Hall said.

Hall pulled them over on I-70 in Eagle when he saw the van weaving and failing to use its turn signals, he said.

Hall ticketed the driver for having no driver’s license, told the driver not to drive and had police dispatchers contact Immigration and Customs, he said.

“Their response was they were unavailable for several hours,” Hall said about immigration agents.

One option was to have the vehicle towed, but that would have stranded the 10 immigrants in Eagle. So Hall escorted the immigrants in the van to a gas station and told them to find someone else to drive them if they wanted to continue their trip, he said.

A few minutes later, Immigration and Customs called and asked Hall to fax the immigrants’ identification and “in other words, do their job for them,” Hall said.

“Obviously, it was too late, because I had already left,” Hall said.

Later Friday, Hall returned to the gas station to check on the illegal immigrants and they were gone, he said.

“I couldn’t tell you if they found a licensed driver or just risked it and went on,” Hall said.

Another sheriff’s deputy came across a group of illegal immigrants Friday night, said Sgt. Dave Lawson.

The five men, one woman and one juvenile said they were illegal immigrants from Mexico and were traveling in a van to find work to Denver, Lawson said.

The immigrants’ van had broken down on I-70 near Wolcott, he said.

When the deputy arrived, another van was just leaving. Someone had driven to the broken van and had reportedly fixed it, he said.

The driver, who did not have a license, said he was from Mexico, but was not ticketed because no deputy saw him driving the van, Lawson said. Sheriff’s deputies told the man to find another driver to continue the trip, Lawson said.

In an hour, the van was gone when deputies drove by it again, he said. Sheriff’s deputies wanted to make sure the group was OK and that they would be warm enough if they could not make their trip, he said.

“They had their luggage and suitcases and stuff,” he said. “It wasn’t like they were in a bad spot.”

Immigration and Customs was called, but the agency did not respond, Lawson said.

Sunday afternoon, Hall pulled over another van on I-70 for an unsafe lane change. The eight men and one woman said that they were illegal immigrants driving from Phoenix to Denver to find work, Hall said.

The driver, who had identification from Mexico, said the passengers were paying only for gas, Hall said. But the passengers said they were paying $300 a piece for the transportation, he said.

Hall said he neither ticketed the driver, nor called Immigration and Customs because he had to quickly leave to help another deputy deal with an uncooperative driver.

During a stop of a van-full of suspected illegal immigrants, sheriff’s deputies “usually” do not call the Colorado State Patrol, Hall said.

Some state troopers have the training needed to enforce federal immigration law, but it can take too long to wait for those troopers to arrive, Hall said.

“We want to handle our own matters the best we can,” Hall said.