We honor our own freedom most when we use a part of it to labor for the freedom of others.

:: Anthony G. Amsterdam

INS Gets Deported by the
Town of Carbondale

In a classic case of government insensitivity, the INS proposed to build a federal detention center (complete with razor wire and 24/7 kleig lights) in the middle of downtown Carbondale. Public Counsel successfully argued that zoning and land use regulations prohibited the detention center, safeguarding the growing Latino community there.

In a classic example of poor planning, the INS in 2000 rented a vacant bank building near downtown Carbondale for a proposed federal detention facility for its Quick Response Team (QRT) serving the Western Slope of Colorado. Hardly an “office”, this conversion of the old Columbia Savings & Loan structure would produce a fortress. Complete with jail cells, an ammo room, terrorist-resistant windows and doors, and 24/7 lighted and razor-wire fenced sallyport, the facility was for the processing and detention of apprehended immigrants before delivery to the main facility in Denver.

Public Counsel was contacted by Latinos Unidos and the Stepstone Center for Social Justice which had staged protests and collected over 1,000 petition signatures, fearing harassment of Latinos — illegal or not — who were a burgeoning part of the Carbondale community. On behalf of these groups as well as neighborhood residential groups, Public Counsel realized that the Town’s land use regulations could block the change in use and retained Aspen attorney Tom Smith, a former Pitkin County attorney and a respected regional expert in land use.

At the public hearing before the Carbondale Board of Adjustment, over 200 local residents appeared, roughly half Latino. The Board was sitting to determine if the issuance of the Building Permit should be rescinded, so as to prohibit the retrofit of the bank to meet INS specifications. Mr. Smith called a series of critical witnesses to demonstrate that the federal agency could not convert the bank building “by right”, beginning with prominent architect Michael Hassig, then on the town’s Planning Commission and now its Mayor. Under the Carbondale land use code, a super-majority of the Board of Adjustment was required to overturn the Chief Building Official’s decision — not just 3, but 4 of the 5 votes.

After hearing 5 hours of testimony, the Board voted 4 to 1 to rescind the building permit and send the INS packing. With Public Counsel’s assistance, an obscure municipal zoning board was empowered to prevent an enormous federal agency from pursuing its plans. Within less than a year, the INS found an appropriate location on an I-70 interchange in Western Colorado.

Public Counsel acknowledges that funding for this project has been generously provided by George Stranahan.


© Thomas O'Brian


© Gino Hollander


© Burnie Arendt