Boulder`s government may soon take a stand on a controversial federal program that uses fingerprints to identify illegal immigrants.
City Councilman Macon Cowles on Tuesday night successfully convinced the rest of the council to support having its staff create a report about the potential impacts to city services that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency`s "Secure Communities" program might have.
The program -- which has been operating for about two years in 32 states and will be operational nationwide within three years -- requires local authorities to send fingerprints of people who are arrested on any charge to state police and the FBI for criminal background checks.
ICE is able to access the fingerprints that are sent to the FBI, and it checks them against a database of people known to be in the country illegally. ICE can then contact the local agency that arrested the suspect and order the person to be detained on immigration charges.
Cowles said he wants the city to study how the program would impact city services, including police.
City Manager Jane Brautigam will lead the study, he said, which will include conversations with Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner.
Beckner said earlier this week that the program would not affect the department in any way, as the Boulder County Jail conducts all fingerprinting for the agency. Officials at the jail said they already provide a list of inmates to ICE, and that the program would not affect the jail's operations.
A staff report is due back to the council by Nov. 9.Councilwoman KC Becker questioned whether the city can influence the debate over the program and how it's implemented.
"Does Boulder have the ability to affect this debate?" she said.
If it doesn't, she said, "We're making a point, and not a difference."
About a half-dozen Boulder residents came to the council meeting to give the elected leaders an earful about the pros and cons of the ICE program.
One of them was Erika Blum, 41, who represents the Boulder-based Voices Of Immigrant Children for Education and Equality group.
"The immigrant community of Boulder is comprised of some incredibly hard-working people who need to feel some trust in our local law enforcement," Blum said. "The expansion of the so-called Secure Communities program into Colorado threatens to undermine all of this."
Andy Schultheiss, district director for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, and a former Boulder City Council member, said he was sent by Polis to speak out against the federal program.
While he said Secure Communities has the laudable goal of catching violent criminals who are in the country illegally, "The vast majority of immigrants caught in its web were arrested for minor offenses, even petty ones."
"There's not a whole lot of bang for the buck," Schultheiss said.
He said Colorado already has laws on the books requiring police agencies to notify ICE about suspected illegal immigrants, and that Secure Communities lacks exemptions for people arrested in domestic-violence cases. He said the program would lead to a "severe damper on the reporting of domestic violence" because of the state's tough domestic-violence laws that require officers to arrest perpetrators no matter how severe the case is.
But not everyone agreed that the program is a bad idea, or that the city should be jumping into a national issue.
"When they're identified, they should be deported -- it's as simple as that," Boulder resident Robert Cluster, 72, said of illegal immigrants.
Cluster said he approves of the Secure Communities program, and he thinks a lot of moderate people in Boulder do, too.
"I think the majority of Americans really want to see our immigration laws enforced," he said. "This whole procession of open-border advocates ... disgusts me."
In May, the city manager put a stop to employee travel to Arizona. She said a controversial Arizona law that enabled police to check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants who were stopped for other offenses could put city employees at risk of persecution.
The travel ban was lifted in August after a federal judge put that part of the law on hold.
The city's Human Relations Commission is now drafting a resolution about the city's desire to have comprehensive reform of national immigration laws.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.