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Opposition to INS mounting

Tim Mutrie

The prospect of an INS “Quick Response Team” office in the heart of Carbondale – or anywhere in the valley for that matter – is drawing fire and from several community activists.

Felicia Trevor, director of The Stepstone Center, and Lupe Rascon, director of Latinos Unidos, and their Latino advocacy colleagues have solicited signatures from hundreds of citizens who oppose the proposed new office. The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service has reportedly secured a 10-year lease on the former Columbia Savings building in Carbondale, located at 0030 Village Lane, about a block from the intersection of Highway 133 and Main Street.

The petition drive, Trevor said, has garnered upwards of 200 signatures since it was launched Dec. 20 – the day Carbondale building officials approved a building permit for the INS to make internal and external improvements on the site. The renovations include a fortified two-cell holding area in the building and a fenced-in exterior entrance/exit to transfer detainees.

“We’re all working together to inform the community of the truth,” said Rascon, who feels the greater valley community has not been made aware of the full scope of the proposed INS office and its operations.

Trevor and Rascon plan to bring the signatures – of those who “do not want the INS to put offices in the town,” according to petition’s language – to a Jan. 26 meeting of the Carbondale Board of Adjustment. At the meeting, an appeal of the building department’s permit approval for the INS will be heard. The appeal was filed Dec. 27 by Trevor and Roaring Fork Legal Services director Kathy Goudy.

Carbondale building official Bentley Henderson, who approved the INS building permit application on several conditions, said the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission never had any say regarding the site’s use as an INS office because present zoning regulations allow for it.

But Trevor, Goudy and Rascon disagree. Their appeal reads in part: “The phrase `public building’ as found in the Carbondale municipal code is void due to vagueness, if interpreted to permit a high-security federal detention center in this location. There is a highly-populated residential neighborhood surrounding the site, and property owners in this area have not been provided adequate notice that this `public building’ would include a secure facility designed to harbor federal criminals.”

If the group’s appeal is denied by the board of adjustment, which hears appeals for building permits and zoning regulation issues, Trevor said her camp will take the matter to the courts.

“That would be the next step,” Trevor said, “in order to keep construction from happening. We would need an attorney to make this filing on Jan. 27 if we’re denied, because that would enable a judge to [issue] a stop-work order.”

Summarizing the objections activists have to the INS’s proposed office location, Trevor said: “The thing that upsets me the most is that the building that is in a neighborhood where are many Latinos live. They shop at City Market and go to the nearby parks, right next to that building. Now if there are buses, with bars, being loaded up right there, primarily with Latinos, that’s a bad situation. It makes Latinos look like criminals. What kind of message would we be sending to the children, to everyone, the whole community?”

A total of five so-called “Quick Response Team” offices, to be staffed with three agents and two detention officers, are opening around Colorado this year – the result of a 1998 Congressional mandate to expand the INS presence in states tied to interior smuggling routes. There hasn’t been vocal opposition to the location of the other new INS offices in Craig, Durango, Alamosa and Brush.

Joseph Greene, district director of the INS in Denver, said last week that “mission one for these quick response teams is to intercept alien smuggling in the interior.”

Michael Comfort, deputy director of the INS in Denver, said the proposed Carbondale office will not be a jail. He said the building would be designed to detain undocumented workers for up to 10 hours until they can be transported elsewhere.

“We’re not going to be driving down the street and sweeping people up,” Comfort said. “We’re going to be responding to a large geographic area.”

Comfort said he hopes the Carbondale community will quickly find all their fears about the INS are unfounded once the new office is open. And actually, last Thursday, Kate Malapanes, the supervisory special agent who will be in charge of the midvalley INS office, said the three special agents assigned to the office are already operating out of temporary headquarters in the greater valley.

Beyond concerns about the locale of the new INS office in Carbondale, Trevor doesn’t want an office anyplace in the valley.

“Our immediate concern is the location of the office, but we’re also concerned with them in the valley at all,” she said. “A less visible place would be better, but we’ll probably try to stop them from locating in the valley anywhere. I don’t know if it’s possible, but we don’t condone their presence anywhere in the valley.”

“Supposedly, they’re going to be dealing with Interstate 70 calls for service,” added Rascon. “Then they need to be next to I-70, instead of next to a neighborhood; our neighborhood.”

“Latinos should not live in fear, documented and undocumented people alike,” Rascon continued. “It’s the wrong concept for our town, for our community in general, and inevitably, people will be harassed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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