Immigration arrests show a significant increase in region
SUMMIT COUNTY – Immigration and Naturalization Service arrests increased 32 percent in 2002 and 12-fold over the past three years.
But local law enforcement agencies that work with the INS said Friday agent activity in Summit County likely did not account for much of that increase. And INS activity in Summit County is probably proportional to the growth of the Latino and other immigrant communities, the sheriff said.
INS agents recorded 12,183 arrests of illegal immigrants in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah last year. Of those arrests, 9,747 were made in Colorado. Most of the arrests began with the investigation of local police officers on reports of suspicious or criminal activity. Others came from routine Colorado State Patrol traffic stops.
Among those arrests, officers discovered numerous cases of smuggling along the I-70 corridor. INS agents in Glenwood Springs made 43 smuggling busts, with 489 arrested aliens. Agents in Grand Junction also made 43 smuggling stops, with 566 arrested aliens.
INS Supervisory Special Agent Anthony Ruoco said the increase is significant and a result of the satellite offices installed throughout the state. Three years ago, the agency placed new teams in Brush, Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Craig, Alamosa, Durango and three cities in Utah.
“There’s been an increase in the mountains, as well,” said Scott Weber, assistant district director of investigations for INS. “A lot of that is the work of the quick response team in Glenwood.”
Law enforcement agencies in Summit County have struggled to get INS agents to respond in the past, however. Officers understand the
manpower- and resource-strapped federal agency is limited and that the mountain area is a big one to cover.
Verna Pottle, administrative assistant to the Silverthorne Police Department, reviews most of the cases filed by officers and said most contacts with illegal aliens don’t merit a full-fledged INS response.
“We basically stopped making that query of them,” Pottle said. “Unlike the mentality in the past, the simple fact that you’re here without papers isn’t enough. It is illegal and needs to be enforced by somebody – but this is a necessary part of our community.”
Officers at the Summit County Jail said INS agents come to get selected prisoners and occasionally look through the jail’s booking logs when they can. Officers said they haven’t seen an increased presence in the past year.
“They probably are coming around more, in general,” said Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales. “But locally, the numbers probably parallel the growth in the Hispanic population.”
Local officers use their discretion in putting a “hold” on a prisoner, just as they use discretion in whether to write a ticket or take someone to jail.
Morales said local agencies don’t arrest specifically for INS violations and, in fact, probably tend to look the other way.
“I see myself as an INS realist,” Morales said. “A lot of these jobs they’re filling, people aren’t beating down the door to get them. We’re not getting pressure from the community saying, “What are you going to do about these illegals?’ In fact, it’s the opposite. People are telling us this is an important part of our community and, “Hey, why don’t you give them a break?'”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or email@example.com.
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