U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found a way around 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.
The data obtained “indicates that Colorado counties may not be fully complying with the state’s 2019 law prohibiting the execution of immigration detention requests by ICE,” the report said.
In 2019, Colorado lawmakers passed a law that prohibits holding someone in jail after they are eligible for release only for civil immigration enforcement — so without a signed warrant from a judge, it is become illegal to keep anyone 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 service to provide personal information about a person to federal immigration authorities.
To circumvent this type of so-called “sanctuary policy,” which ICE officials have repeatedly denounced, the federal agency has used private data brokers to obtain real-time alerts on the exit jail people, according to the report.
And although the number of ICE detention requests in Colorado that were not “denied” rose from 19% to 29.1%, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said it had been unable to independently verify whether people were detained longer than the law allows. local agencies directly.
In a statement from ICE, the agency acknowledged having a contract with LexisNexis beginning in March 2021 and running through February 2023.
“The contract provides an investigative tool that allows the agency to easily and efficiently manage information to assist in law enforcement investigations, including national security and public safety matters, narcotics trafficking, activities of transnational gangs, exploitation of children, smuggling and trafficking in human beings, illegal exports. of controlled technologies and weapons, money laundering, financial fraud, cybercrime and intellectual property theft,” the statement read. “The contract complies with all laws, policies and regulations that govern data collection.”
Between October 2019 and June 2020, ICE made 1,425 detention requests to Colorado law enforcement, and 471 were not denied, with data inconclusive on the other 538 cases due to record keeping, according to the report compiled by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Mijente and several other groups. The data was obtained by Syracuse University.
For-profit data brokers collect personal information and resell it to government and law enforcement agencies, and ICE contracted Appriss Solutions in June 2021, allowing the agency to obtain real-time booking data from county jails via LexisNexis Accurint Virtual Crime Center. ICE has a $22.1 million contract with LexisNexis domestically, according to Jacinta Gonzalez de Mijente.
Representatives for LexisNexis did not return requests for comment Thursday.
On the LexisNexis website, the company said it began a five-year, $3.2 million contract in March 2021 providing an “investigative tool” for ICE.
“The tool promotes public safety and is not used to prevent legal immigration or to deport individuals from the United States unless they pose a serious threat to public safety, including child trafficking, drug trafficking and other serious criminal activity,” the website reads. . “As per Biden Administration policies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not use technology to track individuals who may have committed minor offenses. It is strictly used to identify people with serious criminal histories.
In Colorado, county sheriffs operate an Appriss incarceration alert system called Colorado VINE, and some counties like El Paso and Denver share their data directly with LexisNexis, according to the report.
“They collect billions of data points on millions and millions of Americans and sell them to state and local law enforcement and ICE,” said Siena Mann of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition during an interview. a press conference on Thursday, referring to what the report called “backdoor” information-sharing channels. “That means a private sector company is profiting from the sale of our communities’ data.”
A statement from Bill Ray, spokesman for Colorado County Sheriffs, said the VINE system is funded with state dollars and allows crime victims to track the status of offenders’ cases.
“This law enforcement notification system is required by state law,” the statement said. “To our knowledge, the VINE system is not part of any LexusNexus (sic) data service. Further, the CSOC has no knowledge of what ICE does in any aspect of its operations and how it could use this system or any other data system.
The report states that ICE officials wrote in a June 2021 contract that “due to policy or legislative changes, the ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) has seen an increase in the number of agencies law enforcement agencies and state or local governments that do not share real-time incarceration information of foreign-born nationals with ICE, so access to justice services is critical Intelligence via Appriss Insights from LexisNexis.
Mann said it really goes against the spirit of the policies in the state that are meant to protect immigrants, adding that “the sanctuary policies we have here are meant to ensure that police and local governments do not assist in the eviction of members of our community, and that everyone feels safe accessing benefits, going to local government offices, going to court, without fear that there may be a ICE interaction that could lead to expulsion or family separation.
Proponents of the sanctuary policies say they allow immigrants living in the country without papers to access the justice system and keep their families together without the constant fear of being apprehended by ICE.
A San Luis Valley restaurant worker who spoke to the Denver Post on condition of anonymity because of her undocumented status and fear of deportation said she, her husband and three children lived in fear of being uprooted from their lives every day.
The restaurant worker said her husband, an undocumented warehouse worker, was pulled over by Colorado State Patrol last year and arrested for not wearing his seatbelt.
The Colorado State Patrol disputed that claim, saying it does not make arrests for seat belt violations.
The woman said her husband was released after facing legal proceedings, but was picked up by ICE near their home a few days later and sent to the Aurora ICE detention center for nearly two month. Now he could be deported to Mexico despite the couple growing up in the United States.
The restaurant employee said he did not know how ICE found out the location of their home, since law enforcement is not supposed to share this information with immigration officials in the city. Colorado.
“We came here because we were struggling to put food on the table for our family, and we just want to work,” she said. “We just want to be good. We don’t bother anyone. We go to work, come home and spend time with our family. We don’t hurt anyone. »
Ana Temu Otting, immigration campaign coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said at the press conference that she remembered calling her brother in 2019 to tell him that Colorado had adopted 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 back 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. of righteousness.
“This report underscores the need for stronger data privacy laws to protect personal information and ensure that state data is not shared or purchased by ICE,” Temu said at the press conference. “It also underscores the need to hold institutions accountable for perpetuating a climate of fear among our immigrant neighbors for simply trying to access our justice system.”
The groups are asking local law enforcement to sever ties with data brokers. They also hope to work with state and local lawmakers to strengthen policies that limit cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement and want to see the attorney general’s office investigate the use of these companies.
Gonzalez said advocates have seen how tech and data companies have secured lucrative contracts with ICE, including data brokers, data analytics (like Palantir, which moved its headquarters to Denver) and monitoring. biometric.
The Accurint founder developed a tool for the federal government after 9/11 to conduct massive data searches on Muslims, the report said, and advocates fear these types of contracts will continue to harm marginalized communities.
In addition to the contracts with these companies, the report highlighted two Colorado county officials who previously served on the board of directors of the LexisNexis Public Safety Data Exchange: Vincent Lane, chief operating officer of the Denver Sheriff’s Department, and former Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis. .
“It’s the very platform that compiles data from local agencies in Colorado and elsewhere so it can be accessed by agencies like ICE through a subscription data platform,” the report said.
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 plays a vital role as chief of operations for the Denver Sheriff’s Department and continues to do an outstanding job in that role,” Diggins said. “We hope we can clarify any misconceptions about the ministry’s use of these programs and the concerns that have been expressed.”
Updated at 3 p.m. on April 22, 2022 This story has been updated to add comments from ICE and the Colorado State Patrol.