INS gets busy, office or not
Three special agents with the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service have begun operations in the greater valley out of a temporary headquarters in Glenwood Springs.
They are assigned to the as-yet-unopened lower Roaring Fork Valley office, most recently slated for Carbondale.
Although the so-called “quick response team” office, staffed with three agents and two detention officers, is not expected to open until at least springtime due to problems securing office space downvalley, the three special agents have been busy since their November arrival, according to Kate Malapanes, the supervisory special agent in charge of the Grand Junction, Craig and Glenwood Springs INS offices.
“They’ve been responding to smuggling loads and doing basically what we call jail work: interviewing detainees at the jail,” Malapanes said. Jail inmates who are determined to be in the country illegally are typically placed on “INS holds,” meaning the inmate cannot bond out of jail or be released for other reasons until the INS hold is resolved.
“That’s the bulk of the work that they’ll do when the office opens,” Malapanes continued, “jail work and work on the highway.”
Since the agents’ arrival, they have processed two different van loads of alleged illegal aliens, suspected to be part of a larger smuggling operation, Malapanes said.
“We had two loads that actually were caught at almost exactly the same time near Vail Pass on November 29th,” Malapanes said. A total of 26 alleged aliens traveling in two separate vehicles were apprehended, she added.
Two detention officers have not yet begun duty in the valley, she said, largely because without an office there is no detention facility in the valley.
“The fact that the detention officers aren’t there requires the agents to do more than they would normally do, and it requires the detention officers in Grand Junction to work this area too,” Malapanes said.
“I would hope that we can get into an office sometime in the springtime, whether it’s in Carbondale or elsewhere in the valley, but that’s still being optimistic,” she said.
The new INS office – wherever it ends up in the lower end of the valley – is one of five new quick response teams established in Colorado. The others are to be located in Craig, Durango, Alamosa, and Brush. Formally, Colorado had just three INS offices, in Grand Junction, Pueblo and Denver.
The expanded INS presence in Colorado – and in six other states “tied to interior smuggling routes in the U.S.,” said INS district director Joseph Greene – is the result of a 1998 congressional mandate.
“Mission one for these quick response teams is to intercept alien smuggling in the interior,” Greene said yesterday.
According to the federal agency’s new five-point “interior enforcement strategy,” the INS is shifting its focus away from deportations. The new strategy targets smuggling rings, aliens who have committed serious criminal offenses, individuals who produce and sell fraudulent documents and employers who knowingly hire illegals. Lastly, the INS intends to work with local communities to address immigration issues as they related to particular areas.
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Looking for alternative to I-70 closures, truckers are ignoring numerous warning signs to attempt the narrow, treacherous road that goes over Independence Pass east of Aspen.