Recently released detainee Juan Cruz waits out the rain before leaving the Aurora ICE Processing Center on July 25, 2017, in Aurora.
Denver city officials have asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse the Justice Department’s decision to suspend a legal-advisement program for detained immigrants while it undergoes a cost-effectiveness audit.
City Attorney Kristin Bronson discusses how a new Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund will work during a news conference alongside other city officials on March 19, 2018.
Federal officials this month notified the Vera Institute of Justice that they planned to pause funding for the Legal Orientation Program on April 30. The Vera Institute distributes grants to local nonprofits in more than a dozen states, including Colorado, that provide detainees — who seldom have lawyers to assist them in proceedings — with know-your-rights training.
At the Aurora immigration detention center, the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network handles the work. The group told Westword that the federal funding accounts for 20 percent of its budget.
The Denver officials’ Thursday letter, signed by Mayor Michael Hancock and 12 of 13 City Council members, says they “strongly condemn” the funding suspension. The letter notes that a 2012 evaluation of the 15-year-old program found it saved $18 million in one year because participants finished their proceedings sooner and spent less time in custody.
That review found that detainees in the program learned to better evaluate whether their claim to remain in the United States — and avoid deportation — would be considered valid by a judge.
“To dismantle this demonstrably successful and effective program with just twenty days’ notice under the justification of conducting further evaluation is necessarily flawed,” the Denver letter says. “If further evaluation is desired, this evaluation could and should take place while the program continues to operate and provide critical services.”
Denver is among cities that have drawn rebukes from Sessions and President Donald Trump for enacting laws that resist federal immigration enforcement and aid immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Here is the full letter from Denver’s city officials to Sessions: