FLAGSTAFF – U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement’s request to temporarily use city-owned office space for free in Flagstaff has been denied because of public perception.
City officials were concerned that illegal immigrants would be even more reluctant to report crimes if ICE opened a temporary office in the city-owned portion of the Law Enforcement Administrative Facility, City Manager Kevin Burke wrote in a memo issued Monday.
“If they are not reporting the crimes to the Flagstaff Police Department because they think we are one-and-the-same due to a co-located office, this impacts our public safety,” Burke wrote.
ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said the decision would not influence his agency’s plans for northern Arizona. “We will continue seeking a temporary venue until a permanent one is found,” he said.
Burke wrote that ICE was only looking for temporary offices at the city and had begun looking for a more permanent location somewhere inside the city limits.
He wrote that both ICE and opponents of the agency’s opening an office in Flagstaff used scare tactics during a community meeting last week.
“ICE talks about the very fearful safety implications that come with narcotics, weapons, cash and human smuggling. I have no reason to doubt these are real effects, but certainly they were highlighting the most drastic aspects of their work,” he wrote. “The audience, on the flip side, also engaged in generating fear by telling of stories of residents afraid to get food and children being torn from their parents or visa versa.”
He wrote that the debate between the two groups muddied the real reason the agency wanted to establish an office in Flagstaff – to focus on drug and human smugglers and child pornographers, not simply people who are in the country illegally.
Mayor Sara Presler said she agreed with Burke’s reasoning in denying ICE city-owned-space. The mayor and council were evenly split last week over whether to lease the space to ICE.