Aurora Council Considering Immigrant Legal Defense Fund, Protections

Aurora City Council will vote on an immigrant legal defense fund and an ordinance to limit city contact with ICE.
Aurora City Council will vote on an immigrant legal defense fund and an ordinance to limit city contact with ICE. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Over the next two months, Aurora City Council will vote on establishing an immigrant legal defense fund and passing a law that would prevent city employees from asking about immigration status or country of origin, as well as cooperating with ICE in immigration enforcement.

"We don't want our communities to live in fear. And we want to set clear boundaries in the role between the city and the federal government in keeping our communities safe," Councilwoman Crystal Murrillo, a co-sponsor of the ordinances, said at a November 19 press conference. "And we want to advance the foundational ideal of this country that people have the right to legal counsel and that we're protecting the sanctity of our families, children and communities."

The two proposals are similar to policies that Denver has had in place for several years.

Murillo, who introduced the resolutions at a November 19 council policy committee meeting with co-sponsor Alison Coombs, says that Aurora already has an unwritten policy that instructs city employees, especially police officers, to not ask for immigration information. "I think it should just be codified policy," she explains. "It shouldn’t be up to a police chief to give direction."

One ordinance would prevent city employees from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in any way with immigration enforcement. It would not prohibit local law enforcement from providing assistance in criminal investigations or acting on warrants or subpoenas signed by a judge. ICE often uses administrative warrants, which are signed by an ICE official, to carry out enforcement activities.

The ordinance would also prohibit ICE from entering city-owned or -operated buildings for an immigration investigation without a warrant signed by a judge. And it would prevent Aurora from entering into any agreements with ICE that would deputize city employees to work on immigration enforcement matters.

ICE declined to comment specifically on the proposed ordinance, but a spokesperson says that "any local jurisdiction thinking that refusing to cooperate with ICE will result in a decrease in local immigration enforcement is mistaken. Local jurisdictions that choose to not cooperate with ICE are likely to see an increase in ICE enforcement activity, as ICE the agency has no choice but to conduct more at-large arrest operations."

The measure that would create the immigrant legal defense fund would help cover the cost of legal representation for Aurora residents detained by ICE in the Aurora Contract Detention Facility. Murillo anticipates that the fund could start with $50,000 in unexpended city money from 2020, and then council could find other sources of funding in the coming year.

Denver recently allocated $500,000 for its immigrant legal defense fund for 2021.

The majority of immigrants detained in the Aurora facility go unrepresented during their deportation proceedings, which significantly reduces their odds for success. Murillo hopes that the Denver Foundation, which oversees Denver's immigrant legal defense fund in collaboration with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, will agree to manage Aurora's fund, as well.

Following the council committee's decision to move forward with the two ordinances, the full Aurora City Council is likely to vote on them at separate meetings in December and January.

Murillo is feeling optimistic. "I'd like to think that we have broad support," she says.

Immigrant-rights advocates are pushing for the Colorado Legislature to enact a statewide immigrant legal defense fund. Given the state's shrinking budget, however, the prospects for such a bill passing in 2021 appear limited, according to several legislators.
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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.