The Denver metro area has one of the strongest economies and lowest unemployment rates in the nation. We are also home to large and diverse communities of immigrants. Immigrants haven’t hindered our region’s economic success. And they contribute to our success and cultural vibrancy, just as prior generations of immigrants helped build the country we celebrate this week.
As local elected officials, each of us swore to uphold our local charters and the constitution. One constitutional protection we all rely upon is due process, the right to be free from being jailed without a warrant.
Our local governments fully comply with federal law and would honor any warrant presented to arrest an individual in our jurisdiction. Yet somehow our cities and counties and others across the country have been swept into a national political debate focused on coercing us to prioritize enforcement of federal immigration law over the safety of our communities, and even to violate the U.S. Constitution by holding people or sharing information about them without warrants. The first threat was an Executive Order to cut off all federal funds to local governments that didn’t help with immigration enforcement, which courts have struck down as unconstitutional. Now the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation, HR 3003, that similarly tries to force cities to hold immigrants without warrants and to do the job of federal immigration officials.
As local elected officials, we also swore oaths to serve and protect all our residents. We have worked hard to foster trust between our communities and local law enforcement, because our cities and counties are safest when everyone feels safe cooperating with police or fire departments. Our communities are safest when traffic offenders show up at court to be held responsible for their actions. And when victims are willing to report crimes and testify in court, without fear of deportation.
When the federal government tries to turn local police departments into immigration enforcers, it takes time away from other safety duties and erodes immigrants’ trust in public safety personnel. As a result, fewer crimes are reported, fewer witnesses testify, and fewer defendants show up in court. Denver has documented more than nine domestic-violence victims who were unwilling to proceed due to fears of immigration enforcement. Fear, in short, makes it harder for police officers to do their job, eroding safety for all of us. That is why so many law enforcement agencies have refused to sign up for programs that essentially transform local police into federal immigration agents. And this is why we are prepared to fight misguided threats and legislation like HR 3003.
We have the law on our side. Courts have found that keeping people in custody because of a mere request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement violates the Fourth Amendment. And courts have found that the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from dictating local policies except where it pertains narrowly to how we use their funds.
Unconstitutional threats to local governments distract from Congress’s responsibility to address the real issue —a broken immigration system that has been stuck in congressional gridlock for decades. Separating hard-working parents from children and spouses isn’t just harmful to families, it tears the fabric of communities and puts a strain on local safety-net services. Rather than trying to coerce cities into performing federal functions, Congress should focus on its own responsibility to create a path to legal residency or citizenship for hard-working individuals who have paid their taxes and contributed to their communities.
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Our country was founded on the promise that people from different backgrounds who work hard should have a chance at the American dream, and important protections like being free from arrest without a warrant. We stand with hundreds of other local government officials, from communities large and small, who are promoting policies that adhere to both our laws and these American values. We will continue to promote and maintain policies that build more trust and cooperation between residents and public safety agencies, not less, because doing so keeps us all safer.
Signed by City Councilors/County Commissioners:
Robin Kniech, Denver
Maria De Cambra, Westminster
Suzanne Jones, Boulder (Mayor)
Paul Kashmann, Denver
Eva Henry, Adams County
Paul Lopez, Denver
Ashley Stolzmann, Louisville
Jordan Sauers, Northglenn
Aaron Brockett, Boulder
Elise Jones, Boulder County
Debbie Ortega, Denver
Emma Pinter, Westminster
Dana Gutwein, Lakewood
Westword occasionally publishes op ed pieces about local issues. Have an opinion you'd like to share? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.