General Assembly Considers Bill Limiting State, County Cooperation With ICE

Chris Walker
Representative Susan Lontine, one of the Virginia's Law sponsors, at a press conference on Wednesday.
Two Democratic lawmakers in the Colorado House have introduced a bill that would severely limit non-mandatory cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officials. HB18-1417, nicknamed “Virginia's Law” after Virginia Mancinas — a woman who was detained by immigration agents in 2011 after reporting a domestic-violence incident — was introduced in the House on April 20 and will now be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.

Virginia's Law would bar county law enforcement agencies from honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests (holding targets for ICE in local jails) or giving immigration-related information to ICE unless agents deliver a warrant. The bill would prevent all public schools, state-funded colleges and universities, public libraries, public-health facilities, shelters, courthouses and probation offices from collecting immigration information and reporting it to ICE (again, unless agents have a warrant).

The bill is similar to the immigration policy that Denver passed last August, which prohibits city employees, including those in the police and sheriff departments, from handing over immigration information to ICE.

But the proposed legislation wouldn't prevent ICE from arresting immigrants in public spaces, which agents have done at Denver courthouses and probation offices on a regular basis.

“We're not going to be able to literally stop an ICE agent from walking into a building,” admits Representative Dan Pabon, the bill's co-sponsor. “We can't say 'Don't detain this person.' But what we can do is say, in these situations and in these spaces, don't report people, because there is no affirmative obligation to report this. We recognize as the State of Colorado that we can create safe zones within our own state and borders for purposes of protection of any sort."

Other states, including California and Oregon, have tried asking the feds to stop arresting immigrants at places like courthouses, charging that it can create a culture of fear and undermine the judicial system. The pleas haven't worked. Last year, California's chief justice sent the Department of Justice a strongly worded letter that condemned courthouse arrests by ICE and asked that the practice stop. Attorney General Jeff Sessions answered with an unequivocal “No.”

The bill doesn't lay out disciplinary consequences for non-compliance — that is, if law enforcement agencies or employees at public hospitals, schools and probation departments in Colorado decided to communicate with ICE anyway.

On Wednesday night, lawmakers in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 6-3 to refer the bill to the House Appropriations committee. A hearing date in that second committee has not yet been announced.