Feds may investigate collaboration between school resource officers and ICE in Colorado,
March 21st, 2012
Immigration advocates are hopeful that a new agreement between the Roaring Fork School District and three local police departments will put an end to the controversial collaboration between school resource officers and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. But they also fear that the agreement doesn't go far enough -- and they've asked the federal Department of Homeland Security to investigate.
A letter provided to Westword confirms that the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, or CRCL, received a complaint about the issue. It says the complaint will be forwarded to the DHS Office of the Inspector General to review. If that office declines to investigate, it will be returned to CRCL for an "appropriate response" -- which could include an investigation to "find and address problems in DHS policy."
Westword has contacted DHS to ask whether the CRCL has decided to investigate. Brendan Greene with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Rebecca Wallance, an attorney with the Colorado ACLU, say the CRCL has agreed to do so.
What happened in the Roaring Fork Valley could have "national implications," says Wallace. She's been involved in the issue since October, when she sent a letter to the Roaring Fork RE-1 school board urging members to adopt a policy banning school resource officers from collaborating with ICE.
The issue first came up last year, when a local student advocacy group called the Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion, or AJUA, raised concerns about a school resource officer named Alvaro Agon. The group objected to the fact that Agon had once worked as the Carbondale Police Department's liaison to ICE.
"We have some cases documented of him questioning students about their parents' status," Greene told Westword. "We have instances of him deporting family members of parents and students at the schools. Then, those same children have to see him at school in the following days.... It makes them not feel safe at the school."
The Roaring Fork school board agreed to look into implementing a policy. Months later,it ended up with a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that urges the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt police departments to use "extraordinary discretion" when assigning duties to school resource officers "where a student's family immigration status may come into question as these assignments may diminish the necessary trust the SROs have worked so long to build with the student and the family."
Alex Alvarado of AJUA says he's disappointed that the MOU doesn't go farther. "We felt it could be more binding," he says. "Our goal was to have a written document that would strictly remove ICE from the schools."
But though he feels AJUA was wrongly cut out of the process of crafting the agreement, Alvarado says he's proud that the group's advocacy caused a change. "To have the police departments and the school board write something that agrees with what we've been saying -- that officers that work with ICE will lose the trust of the community -- that's awesome to see," he says. "As students, we feel happy that the police departments and the school district recognize that."
The ACLU is also pleased. "I understand AJUA's disappointment and we share it, but we're pleased with the progress," Wallace says. "We're hopeful that the MOU will be sufficient to do what we know is right, which is to not have SROs collaborating with immigration authorites. We hope the spirit of the MOU will be followed."
Agon, the officer who was the subject of AJUA's initial concerns, has left the state, Wallace says. However, records requests by the ACLU have confirmed that two school resource officers in Glenwood Springs are cross-designated to collaborate with ICE, she says. While Wallace says she doesn't know the extent of that collaboration, the records requests show that at least one officer has participated in an immigration raid. "Our view is that there should be no assignment of SROs to ICE task forces and no participation in raids that can result in deportation proceedings" of students' family or friends, she says.
Read the MOU below.