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Politics and Government

An effort to ensure Colorado police and sheriffs aren’t carrying out federal immigration law has drawn Polis’ concerns

House Bill 1124 codifies a court ruling preventing jails from holding people just on immigration offenses and would prevent Colorado police from working on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But it started out much more sweeping

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks on Feb. 1, 2019, at a town hall meeting in Frisco about the high cost of health care in Colorado's mountain communities. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)
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When immigrant advocates began working this year on legislation to prevent state and local law enforcement in Colorado from assisting federal immigration enforcement agents, their intent was sweeping.

They sought to halt Colorado police and sheriffs from sharing any information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and wanted to bar state or local government from spending any public money to accomplish the agency’s goals.

But even after stripping the most far-reaching provisions from House Bill 1124, which has raised questions about whether it would make Colorado a sanctuary state, Gov. Jared Polis has maintained concerns about their efforts. And with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, which ends May 3, it’s unclear if there will be time to push the measure through, even as more changes are made to appease Polis.

“The governor has been engaging the sponsors and has articulated his concerns on the draft,” Laurie Cipriano, a Polis’ spokeswoman, said in a written statement. “He will continue to review the language as the bill changes.”

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The governor’s office did not respond to a request for clarification on what those concerns are, however during his campaign Polis pledged that he would not make Colorado into a sanctuary state. Furthermore, in a policy memo Polis’ office drafted about the bill in its original form, Polis’ advisers indicated that without changes the governor would be encouraged by staffers to veto the measure.

The Colorado Independent was first to report on the memo. The bill has been heavily amended since the memo was issued.

The document says Polis would not support prohibitions on using public money to assist in enforcing federal immigration law, nor anything that would prevent federal agents from accessing secure areas of a jail. The memo further outlines his apprehension about provisions that would prevent local government from entering into contracts that require its employees to aid in the enforcement of federal immigration law, and elements that would prevent an officer from arresting or holding a person based on an immigration detainer.

House Bill 1124 still contains some of the provisions that the memo says the governor is against. Those are set to be removed in the coming days and the governor’s office has indicated to the legislation’s sponsors that with those changes Polis would be on board.

Currently, the measure would codify a court ruling barring Colorado jails from holding people solely on the basis of their immigration status after they are supposed to be released. It also would prevent the state’s police departments and sheriff’s offices from signing onto an agreement — known as a 287(g) memorandum — to deputize their officers and deputies to carry out immigration law.

No Colorado law enforcement agencies currently have signed a 287(g) agreement. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office was the last to have one in place, but it terminated the agreement in 2015 citing costs and criticism of the program. The Teller County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to a memorandum but it’s not expected to be made official until training for its deputies is complete at the end of the summer.

Finally, the bill would bar Colorado’s probation department from sharing personal information with ICE — an issue that drew controversy when revealed in the past year — and would block immigration officials from entering non-public areas of jails and probation offices. It also mandates that jail inmates be informed of their rights before being interviewed by immigration agents.

State Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a Commerce City Democrat. (Handout)

State Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a Commerce City Democrat who is a prime sponsor of the measure, said as part of negotiations with Polis’ office she will be cutting the element of the bill that stops federal immigration agents from entering non-public areas of jails or probation departments. She will also be amending the section barring Colorado law enforcement from entering into 287(g) agreements, though she said the memorandums would still be barred under the bill.

That’s because a clause will remain saying “the authority of law enforcement is limited to the express authority granted in state law.”

It clarifies what our law enforcement can do with respect to issues that come up around civil immigration law,” said Benavidez. “In our state, there are no statutes that allow law enforcement to enforce civil immigration law.”

An ICE spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Opponents see the bill as a so-called “sanctuary state” measure that helps people who are living in the U.S. illegally avoid deportation.

“It’s absolutely a sanctuary state bill,” said state Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican and fierce opponent of unlawful immigration. He has unsuccessfully brought legislation in the past to allow criminal charges and lawsuits against officials in Colorado cities with sanctuary policies.

“The whole purpose of the bill is to prohibit immigration authorities from being able to do their job and help make communities safer,” he added.

Williams said Polis’ concerns are a signal that the measure is too extreme. He pointed to the governor’s 2018 campaign pledge not to sign any sanctuary state legislation into law and his pushback against the legislation.

MORE: Jared Polis Promise Tracker: A look at the progress on his 2018 campaign pledges

Proponents, however, say the bill is not a sanctuary measure because it does nothing more than reiterate state law. “Republicans will paint anything that is immigration related as a sanctuary bill,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat who has long worked in immigration law.

“I’ve worked with the governor on immigration issues for over a decade at this point,” she said. “I believe that we have addressed his concerns, explicitly, in House Bill 1124. We began this process by working on a piece of legislation that he had deep concerns about so we didn’t introduce it. His input was valued and has resulted in the language that is House Bill 1124. I look forward to him signing the bill because it addresses all of the concerns that he raised in our stakeholding process.”

Gonzales was referencing a so-called “Virginia’s Law” bill that was mulled earlier in the legislative session. Named after a Colorado woman who sought help from police in a domestic abuse situation and then was held on behalf of federal imigration agents, it would have gone just as far in stopping state law enforcement from working with ICE and created so-called safe spaces where the agency was barred from entering.

State Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, speaks to a reporter at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

That measure imploded before it could be introduced.

“I still believe that we should be driving a bright line between immigration and our local law enforcement because we know that if an immigrant is a victim of or witnesses to a crime that they’ve got to be able to call local law enforcement and make a police report,” Gonzales said. “But if they are afraid that dialing 911 is going to lead to them getting deported then that phone call ain’t going to happen.”

Benavidez said part of the hope with House Bill 1124 is that it will prevent immigrants from being fearful about interacting with authorities.

House Bill 1124 was introduced in January and was just recently scheduled to go before the full chamber for debate. The measure is now set to be heard before the full House on Monday and needs two votes of approval before it can be sent to the Senate.

Updated 4:30 p.m. on April 22, 2019: This article has been updated to reflect the correct bill number for House Bill 1124 in all references.


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