Immigrant rights group asks ICE to stay away from Strawberry Days Festival

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Update below: Will federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a presence at this weekend's 115th annual Strawberry Days Festival in Glenwood Springs? That's what youth-led immigrant rights group AJUA wants to know. AJUA sent a letter to ICE, explaining that the agency's presence at last year's fair "traumatized our community." At least one man was taken into ICE custody last year, and others were questioned.

"It's a sensitive location," says Hector Morales, a recent Basalt High School graduate and member of AJUA, which stands for the Asociación de Jóvenes Unidos en Acción. "There are families there; there are children there. It discourages mixed-status families from attending the fair. People will be afraid that they will get picked up."

AJUA argues that it's against ICE policy for agents to be present at an event like Strawberry Days. They point to a 2008 ICE field guidance memo as proof. "This memo states clearly that ICE should refrain from conducting enforcement actions or investigative activities at or near sensitive locations where children and their families may be present," AJUA claims. Strawberry Days definitely fits that bill, Morales says.

"I've talked to both U.S. citizens and undocumented people, and it seems that both groups of people are kind of afraid," Morales says. "Citizens are afraid for their loved ones." Morales says that applies to him, too. While he's a citizen, some of his relatives are undocumented. "I don't really want to go in case somebody gets picked up."

A man who was taken into custody last year filed a lawsuit against the officers involved, including Carbondale cop Alvaro Agon, who came under fire for his alleged dual role as both an ICE liaison and a school resource officer. (The Roaring Fork School District has since adopted a memo of understanding 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.")

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Colordao Immigrant Rights Coalition
A photo of dwindling crowds after a man was picked up by ICE at last year's festival.
But the lawsuit, which was filed before the MOU, alleges that Agon was an "ICE informant" who designated two men, Julio Alvarez-Cortez and his brother Cesar Alvarez, "for pick up" by Garfield County deputy sheriffs at the Strawberry Days Festival. Agon knew them because both are active parents at Carbondale Middle School, the lawsuit alleges.

The men were taken by the deputy sheriffs to an area outside the carnival where ICE had set up a mobile detention center, the lawsuit says. They were asked to produce identification and threatened with detention. Alvarez was let go because he's a single father of twin daughters, the lawsuit says, but his brother was taken into ICE custody.

The plaintiffs allege the arrest was wrong because the deputies were not authorized to act as ICE agents and ICE shouldn't have been at the carnival in the first place for the same reasons that AJUA cites. Westword has contacted the attorneys involved in the lawsuit for an update and will update this blog post if and when we hear back.

In the meantime, read AJUA's letter to ICE on the following page. As of this morning, AJUA had not heard back, Morales says.

Update, 3:28 p.m. June 12: Here's the response we received from ICE on this subject:

For operational security reasons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) does not comment on its operations schedule. However, in support of public safety, HSI routinely works in partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to accomplish our common goal of combating crime.
Click through to read AJUA's letter to ICE.
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