A bill that would largely prevent local and state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on civil matters passed its first legislative step on Thursday, March 28.
"This bill is about protecting civilians whose only crime is not being citizens of our country," said Representative Susan Lontine, a co-sponsor of House Bill 1124, during a House State, Veteran, & Military Affairs Committee hearing. The committee members voted six to three along party lines to move the bill forward.
HB 1124 would clarify a number of key issues regarding immigration enforcement in Colorado. For starters, it would prevent a local or state law enforcement agency from entering into a contractual agreement with ICE to enforce federal civil immigration law. Currently in Colorado, only the Teller County Sheriff's Office has such an agreement.
The bill would also prevent ICE from entering jails to conduct immigration interviews without a warrant from a judge. Local and state law enforcement agencies would not be able to give ICE any confidential identifying information about an individual, such as where he lives or goes for court-mandated alcohol treatment class. And finally, the bill would prevent law enforcement agents from informing ICE agents of the arrest or detention of anyone solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer.
The proposal would have no effect on criminal law enforcement, its sponsors point out.
Before the bill was heard in committee, co-sponsor Adrienne Benavidez and Lontine removed a section that would have prevented a local or state law enforcement agency from using its resources to enforce federal civil immigration law without a warrant from a judge.
At the hearing, the majority of those offering testimony supported the bill. But there was one dissenter.
"If you support 1124, you’re literally supporting the protection of murderers and you’re more amenable to them running loose in Colorado than protecting Colorado citizens," said lawyer Brad Bergford.
The three Republican members of the committee, all of whom voted no, were more measured in expressing their concerns.
"This is not an issue of immigrants versus citizens. The distinction that needs to be made here is between lawful immigration and unlawful immigration and specifically how it relates to public safety. ... This bill does have the potential to make a situation worse," said Representative Dave Williams.
With HB 1124 making it out of committee, immigration-rights advocates have a minor victory. The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and other groups had been pushing for an additional proposal aimed at protecting immigrants during their interactions with law enforcement; that measure fell apart before being introduced, the Colorado Independent reported.
But even if HB 1124 makes it all the way to the governor's desk, it's not clear what Jared Polis will do. "We’re not about to tell local law enforcement what their relationship with other law enforcement agencies should be," the governor recently told CPR.
Asked specific questions about Polis's current position, the governor's office offered a general statement:
The Governor will carefully review the bill if it gets to his desk.
We want to take proactive steps to change the lives of immigrants in Colorado, instead of making political statements. That is why in our budget we expanded driver’s license appointments to the Durango DMV and we appointed a DACA recipient to one of our state boards and commissions. Our administration is also in litigation with the Department of Justice over its unfair rules for Byrne-JAG dollars. We will fight the Trump administration’s attempt to impose unlawful restrictions on our law enforcement dollars. Our law enforcement officers work for Coloradans, not for ICE.
Benavidez isn't sure which way Polis is leaning. "The governor has not told me he would not support this law," she says. "He hasn’t told me he would."
Even so, Benavidez says she's going to continue to push HB 1124 as far as it will go this legislative session, because Colorado's immigrant community needs it.
"This bill will help," she concludes. "It won’t get rid of the fear. But it will alleviate it."