A Colorado Senate Committee had partisan rulings on two bills about cooperating with the Trump administration on enforcing federal immigration laws Monday.
The Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to pass Senate Bill 281 to allow crime victims to sue taxpayers in so-called sanctuary cities, where law enforcement doesn’t “turn over” undocumented residents to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for deportation.
The Republican-led committee rejected House Bill 1230, which would have prevented the state from assisting the Trump administration on immigration, titled by sponsors as “Protect Colorado Residents From Federal Government Overreach.”
People debated for hours about the crime rates related to undocumented residents and the limits on authority of the federal government, and how much local law enforcement should pitch in.
“Whether the number of crimes committed in our communities by criminal aliens is 10 percent or 2 percent, they are crimes that would not have happened if criminal aliens were removed and deported instead of being protected by sanctuary cities,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, who sponsored Senate Bill 281.
Judiciary Committee member Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, said Neville’s bill would allow a federal to determine which local governments deserve to be called sanctuary cities and a target to be sued and which don’t.
Kagan said the bill would surrender Colorado’s sovereignty by bowing down to a federal government’s label.
“We do not in Colorado obstruct ICE from from fulfilling its duties,” Kagan said. “We don’t do it now and we won’t in the future.”
Associations for the states’ sheriffs and chiefs of police opposed the Republican sanctuary city bill, saying it would breed distrust with local police and make undocumented people afraid to come forward if they witness or are the victims of another crime.
That would make communities less safe, not more, they suggested.
“Without that fundamental trust and relationship-building, it erodes very quickly to where you do not have legitimacy in the communities we’re required to police,” said Ronald Sloan, the retired director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and former Arvada police chief, speaking on behalf of the police chiefs.
“We cannot carry out procedural justice with the same effectiveness and efficiency.”
John Sampson, a retired 27-year immigration and customs enforcement agent, as well as a former New York City policeman, talked about three local violent crimes committed by undocumented residents.
Francis Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, had 25 entries on his rap sheet in 2008, when he was driving 80 mph on an Aurora city street and crashed into pickup truck, killing two women inside. The pickup skidded into a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor and killed a 3-year-old boy.
“Not once when he was in the custody of local or county authorities did they bother to pick up the phone and call my agency when I was there working,” Sampson said. “I can assure you if had they, we would have responded.”
Douglas County mother Chris Lazarus blamed Mexican drug cartels for ultimately supplying the heroin and cocaine that ended the life of her teen-aged son Matt in 2012. She and Matt’s brother have suffered psychologically since, she told the Judiciary Committee.
She said local drug enforcement authorities told her they couldn’t be sure if they arrested her son’s drug dealer, because undocumented immigrants use fake identities that are too hard to figure out.
“Since losing my son, my life will never be the same,” Lazarus told the committee.
Lakewood Immigration lawyer Joy Athanasiou said when it comes to complying with federal immigration laws, Senate Bill 281 asks for the opposite — to transfer existing federal enforcement authority to local authorities.
“There is no city, there is no state who in any way prevents ICE from doing its job,” she said. “The entire issue with sanctuary cities and the entire issue with sanctuary city jurisdictions has really been blown to a much greater proportion than what it actually is.
“Sanctuary cities are really just cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities to what is required by law, and sanctuary cities are cities that decline to use state and local tax dollars to enforce federal immigration law.”
Carole Ramsay, representing the liberal coalition Indivisible Colorado, flipped the day’s arguments by going through. Her brother was killed by a repeat offender and one of her closest friends to repeat offender.
“And I’ve also stood beside a sheriff who could not protect me from the threat that was right outside my window,” she said. “In fact, for crimes against women it’s often a person inside our own homes that our laws cannot protect us against.”
In each case in her experience, it was a white male who was the perpetrator, she said.
“Yet I’m not here today to ask you to put greater restrictions on white males,” Ramsay said. “I do, however, believe the statistics would be on my side. I do believe this law isn’t here for public safety, because what logic would dictate from all our losses is to actually build better laws to protect us from repeat offenders.”
Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver said residents are concerned about being singled out by police because of their skin color under an immigration enforcement crackdown.
“We should address this fear with the opportunity to do what’s right,” she told the committee.