The Federal Protective Service has a heavy responsibility. Their mission is to keep federal properties safe and secure for employees, officials and visitors, alike. One such property is the newly renovated Byron G. Rodgers Federal Building in downtown Denver. Among other tenants in this otherwise public building, sits the Denver Immigration Court where the fates of many immigrants and their families are determined.
Last week, under the banner of “Operation Shield” more than a dozen armed FPS personnel descended on the building’s entrance lobby. The operation sought to restrict public access to numerous federal offices housed in that building, temporarily detaining and subjecting unsuspecting visitors to full criminal background investigations if they could not—or would not—produce valid US-government issued ID.
Predictably, immigrants, their family members, even witnesses and attorneys seeking to attend court proceedings were caught in this flash op. Many immigrants—even those who are in the process of legalizing their status—rely on passports or foreign-issued identity documents until their case is resolved. No matter that all visitors to the building pass through an almost airport-level of security screening, ensuring no weapons or other hazardous materials can be brought within. No matter that immigration officials have already conducted background checks in conjunction with the applications of immigrants attending hearing.
Was this bristling display of law enforcement prowess calibrated to respond to a credible threat of terrorism? No. Was there a security breach, concerns about a potential insider attack, or a bomb threat? Nope. Was the operation hoping to detect “unauthorized persons” or potentially disruptive or dangerous activities? Hardly.
What it did accomplish was to draw the attention and ire of many, including attorneys with the Colorado Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who in response filed a federal lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order to stop these intimidating practices. The lawsuit requests a federal judge to intervene and issue an injunction to immediately stop the abuse. Today, the government has agreed to end these practices while a review of security measures takes place.
“Homeland Security” cannot be magic words that make us forget we have a Constitution. Overbearing and intimidating practices such as these have no place in a country built on liberty and access to justice.
Written by Laura Lichter, AILA Immediate Past President and Member, AILA Colorado Chapter