Group wary of ICE plans for Glenwood festival weekend
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – While federal immigration enforcement officials have been mum so far on whether they plan a repeat appearance during this weekend’s Strawberry Days festival, a student activist group is calling attention to their concerns about what happened last year.
The Roaring Fork Valley-based Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion, or Association of Students United in Action, has planned a demonstration at noon Wednesday at the Glenwood Springs Mall in West Glenwood.
The mall parking lot is the location for the Brown’s Amusements carnival, which is slated to open later Wednesday as part of the larger Strawberry Days festivities that continue through this weekend.
AJUA is planning a mock police lineup calling attention to what it believes was a violation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy last year when ICE agents worked with local police in what officials termed a gang enforcement operation.
During the June 2011 operation at the Strawberry Days carnival, several suspects, mostly young Latino men, were contacted by police for wearing suspected gang-related clothing such as sports jerseys and bandannas.
Some were told to remove the clothing or leave, while a handful of suspects ended up being arrested on charges ranging from presenting false identification to marijuana possession. They ultimately were turned over to ICE to be processed for possible immigration violations.
One of the suspects, 26-year-old David Centeno, ran from police after he was contacted but was ultimately apprehended. He was recently sentenced in federal court to a year in prison for repeated illegal re-entries into the United States dating back several years.
Centeno, who police said had a history of gang-related criminal activity, is slated to be deported after serving the prison sentence.
But the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, which works closely with AJUA, has maintained that the operation was unconstitutional and that it ultimately served as an immigration sweep in violation of ICE’s own policies.
A 2008 directive from the Department of Homeland Security stated that ICE should refrain from conducting enforcement actions or investigative activities at or near sensitive locations where children and their families may be present.
Today’s demonstration is meant to highlight what AJUA believes has created unnecessary fear, and which could jeopardize Latino participation and ultimately the success of a popular community event.
“We’re calling on community members to come together to perform a mock police lineup to show the danger of trying to identify people who pose a danger to public safety based solely on their appearance,” according to a statement from AJUA.
“We want to have fun at Strawberry Days like everyone else, but there is a big part of the community that has concerns,” said Anahi Araiza, an AJUA member and recent graduate of Basalt High School.
“There are a lot of mixed-status families who don’t want to go to Strawberry Days because they’re scared for their family and friends,” Araiza said.
Last week, AJUA sent a letter to Paul Maldonado, special agent in charge of Colorado’s ICE Homeland Security Investigations, asking if ICE would be present at the Strawberry Days Festival this year.
“AJUA still has not received a response from ICE,” according to the group’s statement.
Maldonado also could not be reached Tuesday by the Post Independent for comment. Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson was also not available for comment on whether any stepped-up gang enforcement was planned by his department this week.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, whose office was involved in last year’s operation, also couldn’t say if a similar operation was planned this year.
“We will of course have some of our people helping with mutual aid at Strawberry Days, same as we have done in past years,” Vallario said. “That will include contacting people if there is a disruption, and assisting the local police department.”
Vallario has maintained since last year’s operation that the mission was to identify known or possible gang members and to prosecute them as part of the inter-agency gang enforcement task force. Suspected gang activity is a focus of ICE’s Operation Community Shield.
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