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ICE Circumvents Colorado Sanctuary Laws With Data Brokers

To work around the state’s immigration enforcement laws, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has worked with private data brokers to receive real-time alerts about when people are being released from jail.

(TNS) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has found a way to circumvent Colorado laws limiting cooperation between the federal agency and local authorities by using information from private data brokers, according to a new report released this week by immigrant advocacy groups.

Data obtained “indicates that Colorado counties may not be fully complying with the state’s 2019 law prohibiting the execution of immigration detainer requests by ICE,” the report said.

In 2019, Colorado lawmakers passed a law that prohibits holding a person in jail after they are eligible for release solely for civil immigration enforcement — so without a signed warrant from a judge, it was illegal to keep any person suspected of an immigration violation in jail for ICE. The law also prevents local police from arresting anyone solely on the basis of a civil immigration violation and does not allow a probation department to provide personal information about a person to federal immigration authorities.

To get around this type of so-called “sanctuary policy,” which ICE officials have repeatedly denounced, the federal agency has used private data brokers to get real-time alerts about when people are being released from jail, according to the report. And although the number of ICE detainer requests in Colorado that were “not refused” have gone up from 19 percent to 29.1 percent, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said it has not been able to independently verify if people were being held longer than allowed by law through the local agencies directly.

Between October 2019 and June 2020, ICE issued 1,425 detainer requests to Colorado law enforcement, and 471 were not refused, with data inconclusive on the 538 other cases because of record-keeping, according to the report compiled by CIRC, Mijente and several other groups. Data was obtained by Syracuse University.

For-profit data brokers collect personal information and resell it to government and police agencies, and ICE contracted Appriss Solutions in June 2021, allowing the agency to get real-time booking data from county jails through LexisNexis Accurint Virtual Crime Center. ICE has a $22.1 million contract with LexisNexis at a national level, according to Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente.

Representatives from LexisNexis did not return requests for comment on Thursday.

On LexisNexis’ website, the company says they began a five-year, $3.2 million contract in March 2021 providing an “investigation tool” for the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The tool promotes public safety and is not used to prevent legal immigration nor is it used to remove individuals from the United States unless they pose a serious threat to public safety including child trafficking, drug smuggling and other serious criminal activity,” the website reads. “Under the Biden Administration policies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not use the technology to track individuals that may have committed minor offenses. It is strictly used for identifying individuals with serious criminal backgrounds.”

In Colorado, county sheriffs run an incarceration alert system from Appriss called Colorado VINE, and some counties like El Paso and Denver share their data directly with LexisNexis, according to the report.

“They’re collecting billions of data points on millions and millions of Americans and selling them to state and local law enforcement and to ICE,” said Siena Mann of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition at a news conference Thursday of what the report called “backdoor” information-sharing pathways. “This means that a private sector company is profiting off of the sale of our communities’ data.”

A statement from Bill Ray, spokesman for the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said the VINE system is funded with state dollars and enables crime victims to keep up with the status of offender’s cases.

“This notification system by law enforcement is required under state law,” the statement read. “To our knowledge, the VINE system is not part of any LexusNexus (sic) data service. Further, CSOC has no knowledge about what ICE does in any aspect of its operations and how it might use this or any other data system.”

ICE officials did not return a request for comment on Thursday, but the report stated that ICE officials wrote in a contract from June 2021 that “due to policy or legislative changes, ERO (enforcement and removal operations) has experienced an increase in the number of law enforcement agencies and state or local governments that do not share information about real-time incarceration of foreign-born nationals with ICE. Therefore, it is critical to have access to Justice Intelligence services through LexisNexis’ Appriss Insights.”

Mann said it really goes against the spirit of the policies passed in the state that work to protect immigrants, adding that “the sanctuary policies we have here are meant to ensure that local police and governments are not aiding in the deportation of our community members, and that everyone feels safe accessing benefits, going to local government offices, going to court, without fearing that there could be an ICE interaction that could lead to a deportation or family separation.”

Proponents of sanctuary policies say they allow immigrants living in the country without documentation to access the justice system and keep their families together without the constant fear of getting apprehended by ICE.

A restaurant worker in the San Luis Valley who spoke to The Denver Post on the condition of anonymity because of her undocumented status and fear of deportation said she, her husband and three children live in fear of being uprooted from their lives every day.

The restaurant worker’s husband, an undocumented warehouse worker in the San Luis Valley, was pulled over last year by Colorado State Patrol and arrested because he wasn’t wearing his seat belt.

He was exempted after going through court proceedings but was picked up by ICE close to their home a few days later and sent to the Aurora ICE detention facility for nearly two months. Now, he could face deportation back to Mexico despite the couple growing up in the United States.

The couple said they don’t know how ICE found out about their home’s location considering law enforcement is not supposed to share that information with immigration officials in Colorado.

“We came here because we were struggling to put food on the table for our family, and we just want to work,” the restaurant worker said. “We just want to be good. We don’t bother anybody. We go to work, come home and spend time with our family. We’re not harming anybody.”

Ana Temu Otting, immigration campaign coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said at the news conference that she remembers calling her brother in 2019 to tell him Colorado had passed a law that wouldn’t allow probation officers to share his information with ICE, so he didn’t need to be afraid to go to his probation appointments. She called him again in 2020 to tell him he didn’t have to be afraid to go to the courthouse because of another law passed that would limit ICE’s ability to apprehend immigrants in courthouses.

“This report highlights the need for stronger data privacy laws to protect personal information and ensure state data isn’t shared or purchased by ICE,” Temu said at the news conference. “It also underscores the need to hold institutions accountable for perpetuating a climate of fear among our immigrant neighbors for merely trying to access our justice system.”

The groups are calling on local law enforcement to sever ties with the data brokers. They also hope to work with state and local lawmakers to strengthen policies that limit the cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement and they want to see an investigation into these companies’ use by the attorney general’s office.

Gonzalez said advocates have been seeing how tech and data companies have formed lucrative contracts with ICE, including data brokers, data analytics (such as Palantir, which has moved its headquarters to Denver) and biometric tracking.

The founder of Accurint developed a tool for the federal government after 9/11 to conduct mass data searches on Muslims, according to the report, and advocates worry these types of contracts will continue to harm marginalized communities.

In addition to contracts with these companies, the report highlighted two officials with Colorado counties who previously sat on the board of the LexisNexis Public Safety Data Exchange, Chief of Operations at the Denver County Sheriff’s Office Vincent Line and former Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis.

“This is the very platform that compiles local agency data in Colorado and elsewhere so that it can be accessed by agencies like ICE through a subscription data platform,” the report stated.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office did not return a request for comment Thursday, but Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins said in an emailed statement that his office looks forward to meeting with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. In 2017, Denver passed an ordinance limiting cooperation with ICE.

“Chief Vincent Line serves in a critical role as the Chief of Operations for the Denver Sheriff Department and continues to do an outstanding job in that role,” Diggins said. “We hope we can clarify any misconceptions regarding the Department’s use of these programs and the concerns that have been expressed.”

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