Immigrant-Rights Groups Unveil Sanctuary City Policy

Immigrant-Rights Groups Unveil Sanctuary City Policy
Courtesy of Meyer Law Office
Since early February, a coalition of immigrant-rights advocates, lawyers and community members have been working on a detailed sanctuary city policy that they hope the City of Denver will adopt into law.

The policy was unveiled on Thursday night at the Denver Inner City Parish before a standing-room-only audience that numbered in the hundreds and included three members of Denver’s City Council and representatives from the mayor’s and city attorney’s offices.

The policy is a response to the Trump administration and recent actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Colorado; during the two-hour presentation, there were multiple references to the recent detention of Arturo Hernandez Garcia, the deportation of Maria de Jesus Jimenez Sanchez, Jeanette Vizguerra being in religious sanctuary, and the Meyer Law Office capturing a video of undercover ICE agents inside a Denver courthouse.

click to enlarge A packed house. - CHRIS WALKER
A packed house.
Chris Walker
Since President Trump issued his executive order on January 25 threatening to pull federal funding from cities that don't cooperate with immigration enforcement, Denver has tiptoed around the "sanctuary city" title. (Last week, a federal judge in California suspended Trump's executive order, deeming it too broad.)

“What families need right now is a safe zone, a safe zone from rogue ICE agents,” said Diane Guerrero at the start of Thursday's event. Guerrero, whose parents were deported when she was fourteen and who is a well-known author and actress who’s starred in Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, added some star power to the evening. She said that she was visiting Denver specifically to meet with Vizguerra and to help advocates pressure Denver to pass sanctuary policies.

click to enlarge Diane Guerrero speaking at the event. - CHRIS WALKER
Diane Guerrero speaking at the event.
Chris Walker
“We are asking city leaders to clarify their position,” said Guerrero.

When it came time to introduce the specifics of the proposed policy, representatives from stakeholder organizations explained what each component of the policy does and why it is necessary. They handed out this summary to the audience before the meeting:

click to enlarge EVENT HANDOUT
Event handout
The organizations involved with drafting the policy included Mi Familia Vota, the Colorado People’s Alliance, Together Colorado, Padres y Jovenes Unidos, the Meyer Law Office, the American Friends Service Committee, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, and the University of Denver’s Criminal Defense Clinic.

Hans Meyer, whom Westword recently profiled in the cover story, “IRE and ICE,” was on hand to describe how the proposed policy would prevent ICE agents from conducting operations in "sensitive locations" like courthouses, schools and probation offices.

While Meyer credited city officials for taking some steps, such as sending a letter to the local ICE field office director asking that those types of locations be respected, he said that he would like to see more safeguards in place.

Hans Meyer and other immigration-rights advocates want Denver to adopt sanctuary city policies. - JAKE HOLSCHUH
Hans Meyer and other immigration-rights advocates want Denver to adopt sanctuary city policies.
Jake Holschuh
Meyer said that even though courthouse hallways are public areas and accessible to anyone, “we think there are ways that the city can designate its own property for a particular purpose…and that purpose doesn’t include [ICE arrests].”

Meyer Law Office Policy Director Julie Gonzales also said that Denver Public Schools has already rejected one subpoenas from ICE asking for a student's records.

click to enlarge Julie Gonzales is the full-time policy director at the Meyer Law Office. - JAKE HOLSCHUH
Julie Gonzales is the full-time policy director at the Meyer Law Office.
Jake Holschuh
There were emotional moments at the meeting when the room heard from community members who have been directly impacted by immigration enforcement. Arturo Hernandez Garcia’s wife, Ana, made an impassioned plea for people to call or e-mail ICE to request that her husband, who was detained at his workplace on Wednesday, not be deported.

Another woman, Norma Morones, described how she had been apprehended on an ICE detainer and how that experience made her afraid to interact with local law enforcement — even as a neighboring girl was being abused by her parents and was asking for Morones’s help.

“If the City of Denver adopts this policy, it will create a clear line between immigration and local law enforcement,” said Morones.

Toward the end of the presentation, city officials at the event were questioned about whether they would adopt, or at least consider, the proposed sanctuary policy.

Cristal DeHerrera of the City Attorney’s Office was called to the podium first, bu declined to give a clear "yes" or "no" answer, despite being pressed for one and receiving some heckling from the crowd.

“We are all victims of this broken immigration system; we don’t like it any more than you do,” said DeHerrera.

click to enlarge Cristal DeHerrera - CHRIS WALKER
Cristal DeHerrera
Chris Walker
She acknowledged that city officials were unaware of some of ICE's practices until recently, including that agents are acting undercover in courthouses.

“We’ve been having collaborative conversations,” said DeHerrera, adding that the city has just introduced a new option to mail in pleas to courthouses instead of having to attend in person (reducing the risk of arrests by ICE for undocumented persons).

Representatives of the mayor’s office also provided Westword with a summary of the ways in which Denver is supporting the immigrant community and how it does and doesn’t interact with ICE. Here is a link to that summary, which mentions a new law addressing anti-immigrant graffiti and harassment that will be introduced before a Denver City Council committee Wednesday, May 3.

“We are here to listen and will continue this conversation,” promised DeHerrera. “There are things we still need to look at. I know it’s not the answer that you wanted, but I’m not going to BS you.”

After DeHerrera spoke, City Councilman Paul Lopez was also asked if he would champion the proposed sanctuary city policy.

“Yes. I will work to move this forward,” said Lopez. “I can’t promise you, though, that every single word of it will make it through to the end. We’ll fight for everything that we can. We won’t lose the spirit.”

The other two councilmembers at the event — Jolan Clark and Robin Kniech — nodded when asked if they’d take a similar position to Lopez's.

“You know we’ll keep you informed as we go forward,” Meyer Law's Gonzales promised the crowd.

Clarification: Due to misinformation given at the presentation, this article initially misreported how many and the nature of ICE subpoenas rejected by DPS.

Below is the full draft of the proposed sanctuary policy:

The Draft Sanctuary City Policy

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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker