AURORA | Last month, Denver jailers released a man who federal immigration authorities say was in the country illegally. A few days later, that man was accused of robbing and killing a man at a Denver train station.
Since then, a great deal of local and even national attention has focused on how many illegal immigrants are jailed, and how many are released or handed over to federal immigration police.
Few jails in the metro area, it seems, track how often Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents tell them they believe an inmate is in the country illegally.
The Aurora Municipal Jail seems to be one of the exceptions.
Last year, ICE notified the city jail of 42 inmates who they believed were in the country illegally.
Zelda DeBoyes, the city’s court administrator who also oversees the jail, said when the city receives those notices they then tell ICE before the inmate is released. If the inmate is going to bond out, jailers tell ICE that the person will be released within a few hours and ICE agents come to the jail to pick the inmate up, she said.
Last year that happened 10 times, she said.
The bulk of the other 32 inmates were likely sent to one of the county jails that serves Aurora, she said. While two recent high-profile incidents involving illegal immigrants who could have faced deportation and later were accused of crimes happened in Denver, Aurora has had similar high-profile incidents in the past. In 2008, Frances Hernandez, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, crashed his SUV into a pickup truck and nearby ice cream shop, killing three people, including a toddler. Police later said Hernandez had been arrested several times prior to the crash but was never deported.
But it remains unclear how many inmates from local jails are turned over to ICE. A spokesman for the federal agency did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
While the city jail tracks ICE detainers, officials in Adams and Arapahoe counties — the two jails where the bulk of Aurora arrestees end up — say they do not.
Jim Morgan, a spokesman for the Adams County sheriff’s office, said ICE has an agent working in the jail many days and has for more than a decade. That agent checks an inmate’s immigration status during their initial screening when they are booked, he said.
The jail doesn’t track how often ICE requests a detainer on an inmate, he said.
In general, federal immigration law is not a priority for the local sheriff’s office, Morgan added.
“We don’t enforce that anyway; that’s up to the federal government to enforce,” he said.
In Arapahoe County, Julie Brooks, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said the jail tracks when an inmate is turned over to another agency on a criminal warrant, but they don’t track ICE detainers. Those detainers are administrative, she said, not criminal.
In Aurora, DeBoyes said when inmates learn they have an ICE detainer placed on them before they bond out, many choose not to post a bond so they won’t be turned over to ICE.
But if someone posts a bond, or finishes their sentence, it’s up to ICE to come get them, DeBoyes said. Municipal jail can’t hold people behind bars waiting for ICE to come, she added.
“The rub is that we can’t hold someone,” she said.