Aurora Council Nixes Undocumented Immigrant Ordinances

Aurora City Council rejected two undocumented immigration protection ordinances.
Aurora City Council rejected two undocumented immigration protection ordinances. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
In two close votes on January 25, Aurora City Council rejected ordinances that would have bolstered protections for undocumented immigrants in Colorado's third-largest city and created an immigrant legal defense fund for its residents.

"For the past month that this has been brought up, I’ve been getting phone calls from people saying that just because I’m not supportive of this particular ordinance, I’m not supportive of the immigrant community," said Councilmember Angela Lawson, the lone politically unaffiliated member of Aurora City Council, as she pushed back against that criticism — before saying that she'd vote against both proposals at the January 25 council meeting.

Brought forward by members Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs, the immigrant legal defense fund ordinance would have helped indigent immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, a federal center run by private prison company GEO Group for ICE.

The other ordinance sought to limit city employees from assisting ICE, prohibit ICE officers from entering city-owned or -operated buildings for an immigration investigation without a warrant signed by a judge, and prevent the City of Aurora from entering into any contracts with ICE that would deputize city employees to work on immigration enforcement. It also sought to codify an unwritten city policy that instructs city workers, particularly police officers, to not ask for immigration information.

Lawson referred to that in her closing remarks. "I understand where we’re coming from, but we’re already doing this," she said. "We’re putting government on top of government."

Denver, Aurora's neighbor to the west, has an immigrant legal defense fund in place, as well as limitations on information-sharing and cooperation with ICE.

The council ended up splitting 5-5 on the two ordinances, with the five Democrats voting in favor, while the four Republicans and Lawson voted against. Mayor Mike Coffman, the former Republican congressman, broke the tie by voting no on both.

The votes reflected councilmembers' comments at earlier study sessions on the proposals, which became what one member called "a political pissing match" after dueling expert witnesses were invited to speak.

Coombs and Murillo had asked Arash Jahanian, director of policy and civil-rights litigation at the Meyer Law Office, to testify in favor of the two ordinances, while Councilman Dave Gruber invited John Fabbricatore, a local ICE field office director, to testify against them.

Although the council looked split after those sessions, the two sponsors kept looking for one more vote, and
following a social media push by local immigrant-rights advocates, more than three dozen members of the public called in during a comment session prior to the votes on January 25. The majority of callers expressed support for the measures. But ten were opposed.

"When you come into this country illegally, you are a criminal. You should not feel safe when you are not here legally," said one woman.

Others made their pleas more personal. "Please vote yes on these ordinances," urged one man who noted that his partner is an undocumented immigrant. "Help keep families together."

But Lawson, who'd seemed the most likely member of council to swing from her original opposition, wasn't moved. She voted no, and both measures failed.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.