Democratic Congressman Jared Polis took the unusual step of calling out a career ICE agent by name, accusing him – without proof-- of going “rogue” in the case of a Denver woman who’s taken sanctuary in a local church.
“There’s a rogue ICE agent named Jeff Lynch who has broken with the protocol of ICE, broken with what the agency normally does and has basically refused grant Jeanette a deferral of her deportation order,” Polis said, flanked by Jeanette Vizguerra and her immigration attorney. “We now are kind of escalating this.”
Polis’ decision to name the agent appears to be designed to pressure the agency to explain itself or change course.
Polis said he did not believe he was putting Agent Lynch at risk of harm by naming him publicly, but added that “if he’s violating protocol within his career I hope he’s held accountable for that.”
ICE responded to a written request for comment late Friday night:
"ICE officers are federal law enforcement officials who are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. They perform a vital function within the Department of Homeland Security by enforcing the U.S. immigration laws passed by Congress, in furtherance of public safety and the national security of our country. Every day, these dedicated public servants perform these difficult and often dangerous duties with professionalism and integrity. Name-calling and vilifying these officers does nothing to further positive relationships between ICE and the communities they serve."
When pressed by 9NEWS, Polis admitted that he can’t be certain that agent Lynch, a 25-year veteran of the agency who’s acting as the head of its Denver office, has in fact gone “rogue.” It is possible that the agency is simply handling cases like Vizguerra’s differently under the new administration under President Donald Trump, who has made illegal immigration a core focus of his campaign.
“We certainly hope that is not the case,” Polis said when asked about that possibility. “The guidance that comes forward from ICE has been to generally, in cases like Jeanette’s, issue stays. If they are making a change, then we will fight that change.”
9NEWS asked Polis’ office what guidance he’s referring to. They sent an ICE memo from the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, spelling out that ICE field office directors “should generally grant the alien a stay of removal” when they have been found eligible for a U visa.
It’s unclear whether ICE still gives any credence to the 2009 memo. President Donald Trump has proudly reversed many other administrative policies from the Obama administration.
Vizguerra was born in Mexico and has three children who are US citizens.
She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for using a fake Social Security number in 2009 to help her gain employment. Vizguerra is attempting to avoid deportation as she awaits approval of a U visa, a legal status granted to victims of crimes who cooperate with prosecutors. She is holding up in makeshift living quarters in the basement of a Unitarian church, hoping agents will not take her into custody.
Polis pointed out that Vizguerra has been granted a deferral of her deportation twice before because she has a pathway to legal status by meeting the qualifications for a U visa.
He has also filed what’s known as a “private bill” on Vizguerra’s behalf, a bill for an individual’s special case—and a method used by several Democrats to block deportations of immigrants with unusual cases.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado), who is also hoping to block Vizguerra’s deportation, says she was unaware of Polis’ plans for today’s press conference with Vizguerra.
DeGette told 9NEWS it’s always been up to ICE to decide whether to honor a pending private bill as grounds to hold off on deporting an immigrant, but now it appears the agency is not doing so under the new administration.
“I talked to some senior ICE officials a couple of week ago, and they told me that they are not honoring that anymore,” DeGette said.