“We are going to protect the people of Denver. Period.” That’s what Alan Salazar, chief of staff for Mayor Michael Hancock, told a standing-room-only crowd at North High School last night.
For two hours on February 2, hundreds of community members heard from city officials, state representatives and immigration advocates at a forum organized by the Colorado Latino Forum. “We are distressed out of fear that we will be deported. We are distressed for our children…we are tired of being told that we don’t matter,” said Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the CLF Denver chapter, at the beginning of the meeting.
With that, she acknowledged the elephant in the room: immigrants' fear of the Trump administration's actions.
The program was billed as a “Sanctuary City Policy Discussion,” and many attendees came for clarification of Denver’s response to Trump’s executive order, signed January 25, that threatens to pull federal funding from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that shield undocumented immigrants.
Over the course of the discussion, featured panelists gave impassioned speeches about the work being done by government offices, nonprofits, lawyers and community groups to protect Denver’s citizens from any federal immigration crackdowns. But the concerns of the community became particularly apparent at the end of the meeting, and included comments from young Denverites who were brought to this country as children and are now registered under DACA, which was enacted by President Barack Obama as an executive order and could be reversed by Trump with the stroke of a pen.
Hancock could not be at the event because he is in Washington, D.C., meeting with other mayors to discuss Trump’s executive orders, but chief of staff Salazar and Deputy City Attorney Cristal DeHerrera provided unequivocal statements about Denver’s official position.
“I want to make it clear that if Donald Trump expands his [executive order], we are ready to fight. That includes a lawsuit,” DeHerrera said.
“This is my community, too,” DeHerrera added. “This is not lip service.”
She described Trump’s order as “extortion,” and in a tearful anecdote recalled how her own daughter was asking about deportation the morning after Trump won the presidential election on November 8.
Major Bryan Moore of the Denver Sheriff Department assured the crowd that his department would continue its practice of not honoring immigration detainer requests unless presented with a criminal warrant. “We will not roll that backwards,” promised Moore.
As Westword reported yesterday, Trump’s executive order on sanctuary jurisdictions asks the Department of Homeland Security to post weekly data about any cities and counties that aren’t honoring detainer requests.
These requests are made when Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks local jails to hold on to inmates for an extra 48 hours after they are set to be released so that ICE can look further into their immigration status and possibly apprehend them for deportation hearings. Under law, the federal government cannot force cities and counties to carry out these detainers.
Moore’s statement about not honoring these requests drew considerable applause at North High.
But some panelists and immigration advocates wanted even less cooperation with ICE, accusing the Denver Sheriff Department of voluntarily reporting the release dates of undocumented inmates. Drawing cheers, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition demanded an immediate end to that practice.
Noted Julie Gonzalez of the Meyer Law Office: “Press statements are great, but policy is better.”
Denver City Councilwoman at-large Debbie Ortega explained the real dangers of losing federal funding if the city formally adopts the term "sanctuary city." This drew pushback from some of the more bullish advocates like immigration attorney Hans Meyer, who said in no uncertain terms, “We need a sanctuary law.”
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Other panelists included state representatives Leslie Herod and Joe Salazar, who talked about their efforts at the state level to protect immigrant communities.
All of the participants were united in their opposition to Trump’s immigration policies, albeit with different appetites for risk.
But toward the end of the evening, for any lingering community members who came with a suspicion that Denver doesn’t have their back, Deputy City Attorney DeHerrera reiterated a clear message:
“We’re going to fight with everything we have.”