If a school resource police officer is tasked with promoting school safety, and also works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), does that create a conflict of interest? That's the question Colorado's Roaring Fork School District has struggled with after allegations surfaced in late 2011 that the school officer in Carbondale has been using his position to profile Latino students and their families for immigration violations and deportation.
In a statement released in September, The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) argues Officer Alvaro Agon "repeatedly crossed the boundary between his two duties by questioning children about their parents to determine immigration violations and pursue them with ICE after school hours."
The Colorado ACLU entered the debate in October, sending a letter to the Roaring Fork School Board advocating the adoption of a policy prohibiting school resource officers from collaborating with ICE:
We write to urge the school board to adopt such a policy not only because it is the right thing to do for immigrant students, but also because such a policy protects the principals underlying clearly established federal law
The organization cites Plyler v Doe, a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case which determined that undocumented children should be granted the same access to public education as legally recognized children. Denial of such, according to the case, prohibits "the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose[s] any realistic possibility they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation."
Carbondale authorities disagree with the claims. A press release issued by the town of Carbondale asserts the area's pride "in supporting an ethnically and culturally diverse community." Latino students currently comprise about 52% of the Roaring Fork School District's student body.
While the incident eventually spurred the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding urging "extraordinary discretion" between the school district and the area's police departments, many feel the document merely papers over deeper issues. According to an ACLU report released Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has opened an investigation into the matter.
Rebecca Wallace, an attorney at the Colorado ACLU, told Westword the incident could have "national implications." And while Wallace expressed support for the Memorandum's sentiment, activists fear the document may be easily ignored.
(READ THE MEMORANDUM BELOW)
Previously, in an interview with the Post Independent, Agon's attorney, Tom Adgate, said the accusations have been investigated by the police department and are "absolutely false." "We intend to proceed with a defamation lawsuit against this idiot organization unless they issue an apology," he said.
Adgate told 9News that Agon has never questioned students about their parent's citizenship, but has played a role in previous investigations for serious crime. Adgate contends Agon "arrests people who break the law, committee crimes, drug dealers, gangbangers - that's who he goes after and occasionally they have kids in school."
CIRC clearly disagrees. They present an interview with Denise Soto, a student at Bridges High School, who alleges "Alvaro Agon asked my little brothers (6 and 7 years old) if my mom or stepdad have papers. He sat outside my house waiting to see who would be driving, in order to pull them over because they don't have papers. He has tried to deport my parents…he does not make me feel safe."
A 2008 ICE memo regarding activities at or near sensitive community locations advises personnel to be sensitive and act primarily in instances of
terrorism-related investigations, matters of public safety, or ... requesting information from school officials, retrieving records, or otherwise routine, non-enforcement activity.
The Colorado ACLU adds that, since the issue of ICE and School Resource Officer collaboration first sparked in 2011, one of the officers involved has left the state.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more