WASHINGTON (AP) -- Denver officials on Thursday said they would not hand over information requested by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement on four men wanted for deportation.
ICE, the Homeland Security agency tasked with arresting and deporting people in the U.S. illegally, sent four administrative subpoenas earlier this week to law enforcement looking for information on three Mexican nationals and one Honduran who had been in custody in Denver.
It was the first time subpoenas had been sent to a law enforcement agency — an escalation of the conflict between the Trump administration and so-called sanctuary cities.
Henry Lucero, deputy executive associate director for ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations, said Wednesday that the agency doesn't want to get into the business of subpoenaing fellow law enforcement agencies — he called it a last resort. But because of changes in how municipalities work with ICE, it could be necessary to expand the practice to other cities in order to catch dangerous people and deport them, he said.
ICE officials believe they have the legal right to do it under the Immigration and Nationality Act. If a law enforcement agency doesn't comply, ICE officials said they could work with federal officials to take the subpoena to a judge who could hold them in contempt. ICE officials had no additional comment Thursday.
Chad Sublet, Senior Counsel to the Department of Safety in Denver, noted in a letter to ICE officials that the subpoenas were administrative — not issued by a judge — and there was no verifiable information on the documents to show the purpose was for law enforcement and not civil immigration enforcement.
"The documents appear to be a request for information related to alleged violations of civil immigration law," he wrote. "Based on these facts, we are denying your request."
Sublet wrote the subpoenas could be "viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into help enforcing civil immigration law."
He also disputed that Denver had failed to comply with initial requests by ICE for information on foreign nationals wanted for deportation, attaching documents that showed law enforcement had responded to 88 requests by ICE between October and December of last year.
One of the men sought by ICE was from Mexico and had been arrested for sexual assault, another for vehicular homicide and a third for child abuse and strangulation assault. The Honduran man arrested on domestic violence charges. All had been removed from the country previously. Three were released from custody and one was still in custody.
ICE officers rely on help from local law enforcement. Over the budget year that ended Sept. 30, officers arrested about 143,000 people and deported more than 267,000. More than 92,000 of the arrests were of people with criminal convictions.
But immigrant advocates and some lawmakers say ICE is targeting people who have been in the U.S. for decades, who have families and pay taxes — and who should not be their focus.