WASHINGTON—Detective Nick Rogers started to see heroin on the streets of Denver beginning in 2006. As he racked up the arrests, he discovered that the heroin was coming from Mexico and the parties selling it were from Mexico and Honduras.
“They were mostly young, 18- to 25-year-old, illegal aliens from Mexico, but as the years went by, some started coming from Honduras and Nicaragua,” Rogers said at a hearing on sanctuary cities and the opioid crisis on Feb. 15.
“They were all in possession of several ounces of heroin and a fake ID from Mexico (Sinaloa was most common). Some of these arrests led to what was known as ‘the office:’ A location, usually a higher-end apartment, which was used only to stash the heroin and money.”
Rogers said many of the “offices” housed an average of one pound of heroin as well as tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars in cash waiting to be sent back to Mexico.
But Rogers said he started seeing the same suspects popping up again—ones he had already arrested for dealing narcotics and had placed an immigration detainer on. He had assumed they had been sentenced, served time, and then deported.
But they had failed to turn up in court and were now just living under a new fake identity.
That’s where the relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) became critical.
During an arrest, Rogers would call one of the two local ICE agents, who “would respond any time of day or night to assist us.”
“They would interview the suspects and ultimately put a detainer on those suspects if they were indeed here illegally. They often found that the person they were interviewing had been deported before, sometimes they had been deported several times.”
Rogers said the ICE agents were “invaluable to us during those early years.”
However, in October 2017, everything changed.
The city and county of Denver adopted an ordinance called the Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act, which placed severe restrictions on ICE and Denver law enforcement officers.
“We were informed that if we communicated with ICE, we were subject to discipline, up to and including termination,” Rogers said. “We were also told that if we violated the ordinance we were subject to criminal prosecution and would be fined up to $999 and a term of incarceration not to exceed 300 days in jail.”
Rogers said he can now no longer contact the same ICE agents he has worked with for years. ICE agents are now only granted the same access as the general public to city-owned law enforcement facilities. Rogers said he used to have a briefing with the ICE agents in his office to go over tactical plans for drug arrests involving illegal aliens.
“Those ICE agents were welcomed in the front door,” he said. “They don’t even come in the parking lot anymore.”
“It should be noted that in all the years I have dealt with ICE, I cannot remember a single time our coordinated efforts were targeting minor offenses. In short, the only parties we ever worked together on were felons, who had committed serious crimes.”
The Denver City Council estimates that 55,000 illegal aliens live in the city.
At the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) read out a portion of a letter by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), which said ICE has access to fingerprint data on every individual booked into the Denver County jail and the agency can obtain a warrant anytime if it has probable cause.
But Rogers said that’s just lawyer spin, rather than reality, on how the system works.
“When you arrest someone on the street for selling heroin—that’s never been through the system before—there is no biometric feed to ICE or the FBI or anybody,” he said. “The sheriff’s take their fingerprints and they become part of a file at that moment, but they’re not magically sent across the country claiming you’re legal or not legal.”
Proponents for sanctuary policies say the policies keep immigrant communities safe and foster trust between residents and law enforcement officers. A common argument is that not having sanctuary policies creates a “chilling effect” on communities because illegal immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crimes are less likely to report crime if they think it will make them subject to immigration enforcement.
However, that argument becomes moot because the Department of Homeland Security provides protections (including certain visas) to victims and witnesses of crime.
For Rogers, the real chilling effect is on law enforcement’s daily operations.
“We can no longer call and share information with ICE. They can no longer call and ask for assistance, or ask for intel on suspects involved in criminal activity,” he said. “The ordinance has created, in my opinion, a city that is much less safe than it was prior to this ordinance.”
Rogers is also president of the 1,300-member Denver Police Protective Association, a union-type organization set up in 1908 to protect the rights of law enforcement personnel.
He said the members are not happy with the new ordinance. “They feel that they’re being handcuffed, they’re being not allowed to do their jobs.”
On the other side of the coin, in Texas, is Sheriff Andy Louderback.
At the same time Rogers was being restricted from working with ICE, Texas passed Senate Bill 4 (SB4), which makes it an offense to not work with ICE.
If a law enforcement officer does not honor an ICE detainer in Texas, the officer is eligible for a Class A misdemeanor, Louderback said in an interview on Feb. 12.
A detainer is a request from ICE to a local jail that the jail either inform ICE 48 hours in advance of an inmate’s release, or that the jail hold the inmate for up to 24 hours longer so ICE can come and take custody.
Travis County in Texas, where Austin sits, was the main county that had been refusing to honor detainers prior to SB4.
“We did notice immediately that federal detainers were being honored,” Louderback said.
He said it took several sessions in the Texas legislature to get SB4 passed, “because there is a concerted effort to undermine the law in this country.”
But, he said it came down to public safety.
“I wish I had a better understanding of a state that would declare lawlessness on our federal law,” he said, referring to California’s new law that designated the whole state a sanctuary as of Jan. 1.
“It appears to be a completely lawless move to pass a sanctuary state law, prohibiting cooperation between law enforcement,” he said. “I don’t pick and choose what laws we’re going to honor.”
He said sanctuaries also become magnets for illegal aliens, especially criminals.
“If you’re a criminal gang, where would you want to go? Where I can set up shop and not be turned over. It’s pretty attractive,” he said.
Working with ICE and using immigration laws may be the best way to disrupt criminality in some situations, he said.
“It may be the only violations that we have in law enforcement to correct the situation in that particular house where MS-13 is located,” Louderback said. “And yet, by a mayor’s ruling, or a city council ruling, we can’t contact ICE and say ‘Listen, we need some help. We don’t have anything on them, but we know that they’re here illegally and we know that’s MS-13.’ How is that public safety?”
Louderback said he is supportive of President Donald Trump’s immigration position, especially to secure the border.
“A border defines a country. Without a border then you don’t have a country. You become a complete mix of whatever, you lose your nationality when you do that,” he said.