Denver passes bill on immigration policy; sanctuary in all but name

On Aug. 28, the Denver City Council unanimously passed a controversial bill limiting how Denver officials work with federal immigration services.

Denver city councilwoman Robin Kniech introduces The Denver Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act in chambers on Aug. 28.

The Denver Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act is the product of months of work by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and city council sponsors Paul López and Robin Kniech. The bill reinforces three existing Denver laws making the capitol into what some refer to as a sanctuary city.

The bill says the city will not detain someone beyond their sentence on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. City employees will not collect or share information about immigration or citizenship status and the city will not allow ICE agents into a jail without a warrant. Exceptions to these laws are a federal judicial warrant or in instances where it violates state or federal law.

The council approved the bill after a public hearing, during which 32 Denver citizens spoke in favor of its contents. Many speakers voiced their fears or personal stories of being arrested or detained after calling the police.

“Out of personal experience, I know what it’s like to live in Denver and feel like you don’t have equal protection of your constitutional rights, your right to feel safe and call on the police when you need to,” said Victor Galvan, a member of the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition.

Some speakers and council members said that passing the legislation makes Denver an example of tolerance for the rest of the state and country to look to.

“We must have a society, a city, a community that is safe from fear. That is a basic human right,” said Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore.

López and Kniech argued that the bill will help undocumented immigrants in Denver feel safe going to the police if they witness or are the victim of a crime.

“It’s unacceptable for folks to be afraid to call the police when there’s an emergency, if there’s a crime in progress or they themselves are victims of a crime, out of fear of deportation,” López said.

Despite support from constituents and lawmakers, Denver may face backlash from the federal government. Although the bill is constitutional, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly threatened that sanctuary cities would lose federal funding.

Denver’s ICE field officer, Jeffrey Lynch, also pushed back against the council.

“By passing this irresponsible ordinance, the city of Denver’s leadership has codified a dangerous policy that deliberately obstructs our country’s lawful immigration system, protects serious criminal alien offenders and undermines public safety,” Lynch said.

López and Kniech said they are aware of the risk of losing federal grants and favor, but are willing to forgo the money or challenge the government through lawsuits if required. They are looking ahead to pass more legislation to protect the city’s immigrant community. Other cities, like Chicago and San Francisco have sanctuary laws that go well beyond what Denver just passed.

For now, Denver is taking a step in what supporters view as the right direction. Kristin Wade, with the Colorado People’s Alliance said, “Though this policy is only the first step, and much work still remains to protect our immigrant community. It is an essential first step.”


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