VERIFY – YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE’LL FIND ANSWERS
A 9NEWS project to make sure what you’ve heard is true, accurate, verified. Want us to verify something for you? Email email@example.com
A viewer named Tara emailed 9NEWS with a question about the 10 people arrested for the murder of two Colorado Springs teens in March.
“The people arrested, all 10 of them, appear to be related to a Hispanic gang of some kind,” Tara wrote. “One can only assume that they are illegal.”
She also repeated a common assumption people have about media access to the legal residency status of individuals. “I am sure that information is available to you.”
Actually, it’s more complicated than that, so the 9NEWS Verify team worked to find out whether they are in the U.S. illegally and to explain how we check on someone’s immigration status.
WHAT WE FOUND
The most important thing to know about checking on the legal status of individual is that there is no public database for this information available to citizens or media like 9NEWS.
In most cases, local law enforcement depends on the federal government to answer this question about each individual and then determine whether and how to share that with the media and public.
We searched El Paso County jail records and found that one of the 10 people charged in this case has a hold from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
His name is Marco Garcia-Bravo. He’s 20 years old and charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of second degree kidnapping, aggravated robbery and child abuse.
The other nine people charged in connection with the murders of Derek Greer, 15, and Natalie Partida, 16, are U.S. citizens, El Paso County Sheriff’s spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby said.
We reached out to ICE on April 5 to see whether Garcia-Bravo was caught and released by another Colorado jurisdiction at some point before the murders. ICE provided us information but the answer isn’t completely clear.
Garcia-Bravo was arrested as a juvenile and sentenced to two years in a juvenile detention facility. At that time, ICE didn’t place holds on minors, so it’s unclear if one existed when he was released.
We couldn’t find an arrest record for him between that time and this crime.
Those are the facts as we know them.
Here’s additional information about how 9NEWS can and cannot determine a person’s immigration status.
El Paso County posts whether someone in its custody has an ICE hold in its online, searchable jail records.
That’s actually unusual. Most counties in Colorado don’t do that.
If we want to know someone’s immigration status, we call the local jail or ICE and wait for a response.
That’s how 9NEWS uncovered the fact that Ever Valles, the man accused of murdering Tim Cruz at a Denver light rail station earlier this year, was wanted by immigration.
We called ICE to ask about his status, and an official told 9NEWS that before Cruz’s murder, Valles was an immigration enforcement priority because of his arrest record and known gang affiliation.
That’s similar to how the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office checks on the immigration status of people it arrests.
“There is no way for any law enforcement officers to know across the country who is a legal immigrant and who is not,” Kirby said.
In El Paso County, deputies tell ICE whenever they book someone who is foreign born on a felony charge or a second misdemeanor.
“Just because they are foreign born does not mean they are illegal,” Kirby said.
The sheriff’s office follows up with ICE shortly before the person is set to be released on bond to say the agency has two hours to provide the jail with a detainer signed by a judge. Without that detainer, local jails in any Colorado county almost never hold people, even if officers suspect they are in the country illegally.
There is a training program through ICE that allows local law enforcement to use ICE’s data.
It’s called 287(g), and it basically allows local law enforcement to act as immigration officers in certain situations if “the local law enforcement officers receive appropriate training and function under the supervision of ICE officers.”
ICE’s website lists 37 agencies in 16 states that participate in this program. None of those agencies is in Colorado.
For context, there are about 18,000 police departments in the U.S., according to a Department of Justice report from 2016.
That means 0.2 percent of law enforcement departments in the U.S. can check someone’s immigration status themselves, without asking for help from ICE.
El Paso County used to participate in the program, but it dropped out in 2015.
“It became very cumbersome,” Kirby said. “We were doing ICE’s work for them, and it was a matter of staffing.” This is similar to the position of other local Colorado law enforcement agencies when it comes to helping with immigration enforcement.