Pitkin sheriff: Feds “bullying” county over immigration stance

Jason Auslander | The Aspen Times
Michael Levengood holds a sign in protest of Donald Trump's family's vacation in Aspen on Sunday.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

The Department of Homeland Security will try to intimidate Pitkin County officials next week over their recent stance on immigration by including the Sheriff’s Office on a list of noncompliant law enforcement agencies, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Tuesday.

Pitkin County, Boulder County and three other unnamed Colorado counties will be included on the renewed nationwide list, though all 64 Colorado counties observe a policy of not holding illegal immigrants without an arrest warrant signed by a judge, said DiSalvo and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.

“The federal government and this administration is bullying us to try and succumb to their morality, and I don’t like it,” DiSalvo said. “I’m unhappy we’re now being singled out for speaking our minds and other communities who didn’t have their (federal) funding intact.”

Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed Tuesday that the weekly Declined Detainer Outcome Report — sometimes called the “naughty list” — of law enforcement agencies across the country that refuse to hold immigrants on ICE detainers will resume next week.

The report, which was started by an executive order from President Donald Trump, was suspended last month by ICE because the initial reports had inaccurate information.

Rusnok said he did not know the contents of the upcoming report, so he could not comment on DiSalvo’s allegations.

DiSalvo said he spoke Monday with Jeffrey Lynch, ICE field office director in Denver, who told DiSalvo as a courtesy that Pitkin County and four other Colorado counties would be included on the list.

When DiSalvo asked why all 64 Colorado counties that are doing the same thing wouldn’t be included on the list, Lynch told him it was because Pitkin County has declared itself a “sanctuary” for immigrants, the sheriff said Tuesday.

DiSalvo said he told him that had not happened in Pitkin County or Aspen, though the county had recently proclaimed itself a “welcoming community.”

“He said, ‘You’ve been vocal about it,’” the sheriff said. “He said, ‘Your federal funding might be in jeopardy.’

“I said, ‘I get $6,000. You can keep it.’”

DiSalvo said the conversation with Lynch was civilized, though the sheriff told him that after the county passed a pro-immigrant resolution last month he received only one mildly critical comment from a county resident about it.

“I said I take my role as representative of these 17,000 people very seriously and I believe this is what this community wants,” he said. “He said he respected that, but that the government feels like it might be a little too high-profile.”

DiSalvo said he took that to mean that the federal government was penalizing Pitkin County “for speaking out to Washington, D.C.”

“You speak up, we’ll slap you down,” DiSalvo said. “I’m a little upset.”

DiSalvo also said he received a memo from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, dated Monday, stating that law enforcement agencies who decline to cooperate will not be eligible to receive federal grants administered by the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security only.

DiSalvo said he finds Sessions particularly offensive because the attorney General is “one of the most racist people in government.”

“For God’s sake, the man supports the Ku Klux Klan,” he said.

DiSalvo said he did not know the three other Colorado counties to be included on the list.

Boulder County Sheriff Pelle said Tuesday he had a recent conversation with Lynch, as well, though Lynch did not provide him with an explanation why only five of the state’s 64 counties would appear on the upcoming list. Pelle speculated that his agency may have been included because the city of Boulder recently declared itself a “sanctuary city.”

His agency also does not honor ICE detainers because they are not signed by a judge, Pelle said, though he does honor ICE requests for public information about those detained in his jail as required by law.

“I don’t understand what this list does,” Pelle said. “They’re calling out the counties that don’t honor (ICE) detainers, but none do.

“I also don’t understand why five counties were picked out of the 64 counties in the state.”

Pelle also did not know the remaining three counties scheduled to appear on next week’s list.

Pitkin County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution April 26 declaring that the Sheriff’s Office would not arrest or investigate people solely on the basis of immigration status. The office also will not provide non-public information about a person to ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection or allow federal access to anyone in the Pitkin County Jail if the sole purpose of the visit is to enforce federal immigration law, according to the resolution.

In addition, no county employee “shall perform the functions of a federal immigration officer,” the resolution states.

Commissioners proudly and defiantly passed the resolution.

“This is one of the most important resolutions Pitkin County has ever passed,” Commissioner Steve Child said at the time.

Commissioner Patti Clapper, who has lived in Aspen for 37 years, added: “I want to say I’ve never been prouder of Pitkin County.”

DiSalvo said Tuesday he is annoyed at the capriciousness of the federal list coming out next week, though it won’t alter any Pitkin County policies or morality.

“I’m unhappy,” he said. “I’m also not changing my mind.”


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