It’s been almost two weeks since crowds poured into local streets protesting threats from President Trump and federal immigration officials that large-scale enforcement would round up some 2,000 undocumented people across the country. Reporters and migrants rights activists waited for word that something big had begun, but the hype fizzled as reports from Denver and other U.S. cities came in that no such “raids” had yet taken place.
But activists say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity has grown in recent weeks. Others say the threats merely mask increased activity that has been ongoing since Trump took office.
“It’s a significant ramping up of what ICE does regularly,” Jordan Garcia said.
The Colorado Rapid Response Network, a collection of volunteers who operate a hotline to report and confirm ICE activity in Colorado and southern Wyoming, has been keeping tabs on enforcement.
Garcia, a Network coordinator, said they’ve fielded 329 calls since July 14. Some of those were duplicates, when multiple people called in about the same thing, like a police checkpoint. Only 10 or 15 were “hate calls,” he said. Network observers have responded to 171 locations in the region as a result of these reports.
They were able to confirm six instances of ICE arrests. One was at a workplace — a construction site — and two took place at apartment complexes. Three confirmed operations were in public places and all took place last week: Two people were detained midday near a King Soopers off Sheridan Boulevard in Mar Lee. Another person was detained after being pulled over on Alameda Avenue early in the morning. “Possibly two people or more” were detained one afternoon off Pecos Street, north of the city in Sherrelwood, according to a report on the Network’s Facebook page.
Garcia, who’s worked with people facing deportation for years, said he believes this represents an “uptick” in ICE activity.
“It’s not as sexy as a big raid,” he said, but “it’s still pretty devastating.”
According to the Colorado Independent, the agency detained 34 people between July 7 and 11 in Colorado and Wyoming and served 85 Denver businesses with “notices of inspection.”
The agency also confirmed that they’ve widened the scope of who’s eligible to be detained and deported to virtually everyone without legal status.
A statement sent to Denverite read, “ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and – if found removable by final order – removal from the United States.”
Garcia said he’s also noticed individual ICE operations have been carried out by larger numbers of agents. Calls about the arrests off Pecos, for instance, reported that “five ICE vehicles and multiple ICE agents” responded.
Alethea Smock, a spokesperson for ICE, confirmed that more agents are active on the ground. But she attributed the increase to “sanctuary” measures passed by the city and state, which limit how local law enforcement can interact with federal agents. Denver passed its measure in August 2017. Governor Polis signed the state’s law last May.
Before these measures were passed, only one or two officers were needed to pick someone up from a controlled site like a jail. Now, she said, they need to work in greater numbers to ensure their own safety. She added that increased activism has also made it more dangerous for ICE agents, since civilians have begun to interfere with the agency’s operations.
Despite the perceived increase, Garcia said it’s still not much different from the last few years.
“It’s actually really similar to what ICE has been doing for a really long time,” he said, “they’re just doing a lot more of it right now.”
Denver Police data shows ICE activity swelled since President Trump took office.
Addressing the press before the “raids” were set to occur, Denver Department of Public Safety Executive Director Troy Riggs said ICE regularly contacts the city’s 911 dispatch to ensure their officers do not clash with Denver Police during an operation. He said the agency usually gives the city about 10 minutes’ notice.
The police department provided Denverite with tallies of these calls going back to 2008. The numbers come from Denver’s “Computer Aided Dispatch system,” a DPD spokesman said, which was queried by the type of call, “surveillance,” and comments that include the term “ICE.”
Calls to Denver’s dispatch were reported to be in the single digits each year between 2008 and 2010. They steadily increased each year until 2017, when the number doubled from 84 calls in 2016 to 168. ICE is not required to call police for every call in every place, so it’s possible operations were not communicated to the department based on discretion or location.
Andrew Brooks, a local immigration attorney, said he “definitely” noticed the increase after Trump took office. But the threat of raids, he said, was a rhetorical tactic. Normally, 2,000 people arrested in the country in one month would not be a “newsworthy number.”
Hans Meyer, another local attorney who has been working on state immigration legislation, said the rhetoric helps distract from the increased enforcement since Trump took office.
“It’s a raising of the expectations of suffering,” he said, and it “further normalizes what is hyper-aggressive and unjust.”
According to federal data, ICE made between 13,000 and 14,000 administrative arrests every month between October 2017 and September 2018. Then, the number dropped to between 11,000 and 13,000 each month. Arrests have stayed in that range ever since. ICE’s calls to Denver’s dispatch also dropped in September 2018, from double digits most months to less than 10 every month.
David Simmons, an immigration attorney who is also based in Denver, said the drop could be the result of ICE’s capacity wearing thin.
“There is so much focus and so much direction of resources to the border,” he said. “Interior enforcement is not a priority.”
Instead, he said the threats were designed to do two things: “Appeal to his base and sow panic in the immigrant communities.”
Both of those goals were met, he added, partially because news outlets and protesters around the country were incensed by the news.
“In some sense,” he said, “we kind of played along.”