Colorado ICE chief meets with reporters to ‘dispel a lot of myths’

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John Fabbricatore, acting field office director for enforcement and removal operations in Denver, took questions from a handful of reporters for more than 20 minutes Saturday morning at the agency’s offices in Centennial. PHOTO BY KARA MASON/The Sentinel

AURORA | The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is trying to “dispel a lot of myths” about the work it does. 

John Fabbricatore, acting field office director for enforcement and removal operations in Denver, took questions from a handful of reporters for more than 20 minutes Saturday morning at the agency’s offices in Centennial.

“We really just want to dispel a lot myths that are out there concerning how immigration enforcement works,” Fabbricatore said.

The news conference was held to address an “open letter to the American public” the agency released on Friday. 

“ICE officers are sworn federal law enforcement officers who enforce U.S. immigration laws created by Congress to keep this country safe. As such, it greatly concerns us when advocacy groups, citizens and politicians share and support incorrect or misleading information about our mission that is a vital part of national security and public safety,” the letter says. “These misconceptions may lead to violence, which places innocent bystanders, aliens and law enforcement officers in danger.”

The letter says ICE does not conduct raids, but rather organizes targeted arrests which the agency says happens every day. Additionally, ICE said its “officers treat detainees with dignity and respect” and  “are aware of the real and emotional impact of immigration enforcement.”

“The immediate and extreme impact an immigration enforcement action has on an individual and their family is not lost on our officers,” the letter said. “These ICE officers and their families live and shop, as well as attend schools and places of worship in the same communities. Casting aspersions about our officers’ intentions only spreads fear in a community; this is unfair and without merit.”

Fabbricatore said offices across the country, including in Denver, have received threats of violence because of their work. 

“We have been doing the same thing for years. It’s the rhetoric lately and these things that are being said about the men and women of ICE — that there is a humanitarian crisis that we’re running concentration camps — that is the wrong thing to say. The men and women of ICE put on a badge every day and take an oath to defend this country and protect this country.”

Protests at the Aurora facility have become increasingly larger and boisterous. A protest in July resulted in Aurora police standing by as scofflaws rushed a prison property front to deface flags.

Asked about a protest planned to take place next week in local immigration detention center warden Johnny Choate’s neighborhood, Fabbricatore said “it is wrong to go to a man’s home and protest at his home for a job he is doing, that he is being contracted to do. These groups that are going out there and scaring his wife and children are wrong.” 

Choate is the warden of the detention center in Aurora that is owned and operated by GEO Group Inc. and contracted by the federal government. 

Last August, Choate took to the Hill newspaper to write about what he called “misleading information and politically-driven insinuations about the services The GEO Group (GEO) provides to the federal government.”

“For more than three decades, we have served as a partner to the public sector, fulfilling contracts with very clear and detailed mandates, requirements and comprehensive oversight. It is not my job to cast judgment or opinion on those entrusted to our care,” he wrote. “Rather, it is my job to protect those entering the facility and ensure they are provided high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe, secure, and humane environments, and are treated with compassion, dignity and respect.”

The Aurora facility and others across the country were criticized by federal officials, members of Congress and local civil rights activists.

“Immigration detention facilities, like the one operated by GEO Group in Aurora, are all too often cloaked in secrecy, offering little to no transparency into the way detainees are treated within their walls,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said earlier this year.

Since becoming the acting field director, Fabricatore said he’s focused on increasing transparency of the agency and the detention center in north Aurora.

“There’s nothing for us to hide,” Fabricatore said. “We’re following the law. It’s important for us to be transparent because we are housing 1,300 human beings in that facility. It is important that they are treated the right way. We believe we are doing that under the policies that we are following. If there are things that need to be changed, we’re willing to look at that, and we are willing to work with different organizations every day.”

Since July, Aurora Congressman Jason Crow’s office has been conducting a weekly “oversight visit.” 

Crow has been calling for more transparency since he was denied a visit in February after showing up the the GEO facility in Aurora unannounced. ICE officials later said Crow was not admitted into the facility because he alerted the media.