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Sanctuary City Denver Freed An Illegal Alien Homicide Suspect Over ICE Objections

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. ICE agents said the immigrant, a legal resident with a Green Card, was a convicted criminal and member of the Alabama Street Gang in the Canoga Park area. ICE builds deportation cases against thousands of immigrants living in the United States. Green Card holders are also vulnerable to deportation if convicted of certain crimes. The number of ICE detentions and deportations from California has dropped since the state passed the Trust Act in October 2013, which set limits on California state law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. John Moore/Getty Images.U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. ICE agents said the immigrant, a legal resident with a Green Card, was a convicted criminal and member of the Alabama Street Gang in the Canoga Park area. ICE builds deportation cases against thousands of immigrants living in the United States. Green Card holders are also vulnerable to deportation if convicted of certain crimes. The number of ICE detentions and deportations from California has dropped since the state passed the Trust Act in October 2013, which set limits on California state law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. John Moore/Getty Images.

An unfolding scandal in Denver has both the District Attorney’s office and the Sheriff’s Office struggling to explain why an illegal alien, Ricardo Daniel Lopez-Vera, who was sought by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for placement in deportation proceedings, was allowed to go free last week on a mere $1000 bail after killing a U.S. citizen in the Denver jail.

Fortunately, federal ICE officers apprehended the illegal alien only six days following his release from Denver jail, and he is now being held in an ICE detention facility awaiting a deportation hearing before an immigration judge.

The story began in the Denver jail on Monday morning, July 10, when nineteen-year-old Lopez-Vera, a Mexican national, killed another jail inmate, William Anderson, 42, in a fight in or near the Denver jail’s shower room.  A federal ICE agent learned of the incident and went to the jail that same day and interviewed Lopez-Vera. He determined by the man’s statements that he was in the country unlawfully, and later that same day he signed and delivered an official ICE detainer for Lopez-Vera to the Denver Sheriff’s Office.

The ICE detainer form now being used uniformly across the country can be viewed here.  As a matter of policy, ICE never makes public a detainer served on an individual, but in the case of Lopez-Vera, we have official confirmation of the substance of what the detainer form said. The detainer give to Denver Sheriff’s Office specified that “Probable case exists that the subject is a removable alien,” and further, it indicated the kind of  evidence establishing the probable cause for that affirmation.

The following day in court at a bail hearing, the Denver District Attorney’s office referred to the homicide as a case of “self defense” and declined to file homicide charges against Lopez-Vera.  the illegal alien was scheduled for release on bail the following day, July 12.

What is being disputed is why Lopez-Vera was released on bail so quickly — before the medical examiner’s report on the homicide victim was completed and after federal immigration authorities had notified the Sheriffs’ office they wanted to take him into custody. The man had been officially designated by the ICE detainer as an illegal alien subject to a deportation, and moreover, had an extensive arrest record  and suspected membership in a transnational criminal gang, El Surenos, which is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia.

It is also somewhat puzzling that he was released on bail even though his original arrest in Denver on June 8  was on a “Failure to Appear” (FTA) warrant for a previous offense. Who would expect the man to show up for his next court hearing if released on bail?

The Denver jail has a well-known policy of not honoring ICE detainer requests to maintain custody until ICE could assume custody. In this case, the Sheriff’s staff did call and notify ICE that Lopez-Vera would be released on the following day (Wednesday)  but providing no other details. We have an hour-by-hour timeline for the communications between ICE and the jail by virtue of an official statement sent to media by Carl Rusnok, ICE Public Information Officer in the Dallas Field Office. (That official ICE statement is available here.)

The ICE statement asserts that the Sheriff’s staff evaded ICE’s questions and would not tell ICE the time and place of the man’s scheduled release. The reason for the jail staff’s evasions later became clear: It turned out that Lopez-Vera was not released from the jail itself; he was transported by Sheriff’s Office personnel to a local hospital and then allowed to walk free from the hospital. ICE had no knowledge of that release from the hospital and thus, was not able to take the man into custody.

Let’s summarize what happened. Mr. Lopez-Vera was released by the Denver jail despite (1) having received a lawful detainer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); (2) despite being involved in the July 10 killing of another inmate in the jail only 48 hours earlier; (3) despite having an extensive arrest record, and (4) despite being the subject of a writ of Habeas Corpus ad Prosequendum signed by a judge in neighboring Adams county. That Latin term translates roughly to — bring him to this courtroom pronto!  The Denver District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office, adhering to the sanctuary city’s practice of protecting illegal aliens in every possible way, chose to ignore all those circumstances and set him free on bail.

Under federal law, whether an illegal alien should be deported or released is properly a decision to be made by a federal immigration judge after a hearing at which the alien may be represented by counsel– not a decision to be made by a local government official.

In a July 15 interview, the Democrat District Attorney, Beth McCann, faced many probing questions from a former Denver prosecutor, well-known radio talk show host Craig Silverman. DA  McCann consistently referred to Lopez-Vera as “the victim” because he allegedly did not throw the first punch according to one witness. McCann did not view the fact that Lopez–Vera declined to cooperate with homicide investigators as in any way suspicious. The full podcast of the full interview is here.

By an astonishing coincidence, the release of criminal alien Lopez-Vera came one day after the release of the “2016 Crime in Colorado” report, which showed sharp increases in the state’s crime rate, increases above the national average. Homicides in Colorado are up 9.9%, rape is up 7.2%, robberies 5.9% and auto theft a whopping 22%. Citizens may well be asking, is the increase in crime related to Denver’s growing reputation as a “welcoming” environment for illegal aliens?

Unfortunately, neither you nor I nor the Congress can know for certain the exact relationship between immigration status and crime rates because Congress has never added that item to the data collected and reported by law enforcement for the annual reports published by the FBI and state agencies.

Denver is well known for its attitude of protection for illegal aliens. This past May, the Denver city council voted to reduce maximum sentences for persons convicted of domestic violence and some other common misdemeanors as part of a sweeping reform to reduce the vulnerability of immigrants to the threat of deportation. They did this despite a February 2017 report that homicides related to domestic violence are at a 10-year high in Colorado.

It’s also significant that In releasing Lopez-Vera on bail, Denver effectively flipped a middle finger to the adjacent Adams County judge who had signed a warrant for the man’s return to Adams County to face numerous criminal charges in that jurisdiction. Thus, not only are Denver officials protecting criminal  aliens from federal law enforcement, Denver is now protecting illegal alien criminals from lawful detention and prosecution by other Colorado courts.

If ever there were a sanctuary city on steroids, it is the City and County of Denver, a place  governed by a Democrat Mayor, a Democrat District Attorney, and an elected city council of 13 Democrats and no Republicans. The “Resistance” is alive and prospering in Denver.

It should surprise no one that the nation’s sanctuary city officials are all opposed to H.R. 3003, the “No Sanctuary for Criminals” bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and now awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. Obviously, it would seriously cramp their style. It might also  put into doubt the future of the well-worn welcome mat for illegal alien criminals.

Tom Tancredo
the authorTom Tancredo
Tom Tancredo represented Colorado's 6th Congressional District from 1999 until 2009. While in Congress, he chaired the bipartisan Immigration Reform Caucus. He currently is seeking the Republican nomination for Governor of Colorado.

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