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Lawsuits & Litigation

Denver Refuses to Cede Sanctuary City Status as Trump Administration Steps Up Intimidation

— February 11, 2020

ICE is suing Denver for not complying with its subpoenas; Denver says ICE already has the information it’s requesting.

Federal prosecutors are launching a lawsuit against Denver for its failure to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) subpoenas.

As reports, the lawsuit is similar to others the Trump administration has filed against so-called “sanctuary cities” across the United States. Filed by prosecutors on behalf of ICE, the complaint alleges that Denver’s interim sheriff, Fran Gomez, ignored multiple subpoenas seeking information about inmates in the city jail. While some were still behind bars, others had recently been released. All were suspected of committing serious crimes, including sexual assault and vehicular homicide.

ICE’s subpoenas sought the inmates’ home and work addresses as well as their dates and places of birth. The agency’s intent, apparently, was to identify suspected criminals’ immigration status with an eventual aim of deportation.

While ICE’s intentions may seem rather benign, notes that, before January, the agency had rarely subpoenaed law enforcement agencies anywhere in the United States. But with the Trump administration maintaining its years-long crusade against sanctuary cities, ICE has stepped up its offensive, too.

Image of the Denver, Colorado State Capitol
Denver, Colorado State Capitol; Image Courtesy of Pixabay,, CC0 Public Domain.

Explaining his complaint against Denver and other sanctuary cities, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence suggested that sheriffs like Gomez may be breaking the law.

“The individuals that fail to comply [with subpoenas] could be held in contempt,” Albence said during a late-January press conference. “They can show up to court with a toothbrush, because they might not be going home that night, because they could be jailed for failure to comply with a lawful order form a judge.”

But officials from the Denver City Attorney’s Office said it’s under no obligation to comply—largely because few of ICE’s subpoenas are actually signed by a judge. Furthermore, Denver attorneys say that ICE is simply exerting its power to threaten the city’s sanctuary status, making multiple requests for information it already has.

“The fact that ICE has access to this data and in fact already has the data itself, undermines any assertion these subpoenas were issued in good faith and demonstrates that the information is not relevant to any legitimate inquiry as it is unnecessary and duplicative,” Denver Attorney’s Office lawyer Chad Sublet wrote in a brief. “It is clear to Denver that ICE is suing these administrative subpoenas for political purposes rather than pursuing a legitimate need.”

Sublet also referred to Albence’s comments as “an example of why these requests do not appear to be a legitimate law-enforcement-agency-to-law-enforcement-agency attempt to cooperate in a criminal investigatory matter.”

The subpoenas, Sublet said, could be “viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into helping civil immigration law.”

The Colorado Sun adds that, although many of ICE’s targets are indeed dangerous criminals, most are ordinary migrants—undocumented or not—who have been living in the U.S. for decades, often raising families and paying taxes.


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