Bill to allow for warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants dies in committee

Legislation modeled after a section of an Arizona law was killed yesterday in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee on a party-line vote as Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, proclaimed the bill un-Coloradan. Bill sponsor, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill’s death was just another example of Democrats failing to address the immigration issue.

SB-54 would have authorized police officers to arrest without warrant any individual after establishing probable cause that they are illegally in the country.

Lambert said he was not surprised his bill failed.

“We have run many many illegal immigrant bills through the Democrat houses with the same result,” he said.

Lambert said he felt much of the testimony declaring the law unconstitutional was incorrect or focused on other legislation.

Advocates and some Democrats argued that while the bill uses probable cause as the basis to arrest individuals, the initiation of an investigation to determine that standard would likely be race or language based. They said such a practice would be discriminative and likely unconstitutional.

“The only reason that someone could have probable cause short of breaking an already existing state law would be because they happen to be racially profiled,” an Anti-Defamation league spokesperson told the committee. “They may not speak the language, they might not be able to explain themselves well.”

“The fact is these are already laws. We are not creating new laws. We are just saying the state should enforce existing law, which for the illegal immigrant issue is usually part of what most citizens expect,” Lambert said.

Sen. Kent Lambert presenting his bill before committee (Boven)

U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton issued a preliminary ruling ruling that  found portions of the bill, including one which allowed law enforcement officers to question individuals ‘suspected’ of being illegal immigrants to determine their status, conflicted with federal immigration law. As a result, she issued an injunction against those sections. The law is currently awaiting a decision in the 9th circuit court of appeals about that injunction. The case is likely to move on to the U.S. Supreme Court from there.

Lambert said the federal government had failed in its responsibility and as a result it is up to the states to force its hand, stating that many states are moving in the direction of Arizona and his law.

The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said it was against the bill on the grounds that police do not have the resources to deal with 250,000 illegal immigrants potentially living in Colorado. Further, they felt that that the law would hinder their ability to work with communities.

A study released earlier this month shows that illegal immigration from Mexico is on a downward trend, with numbers down even more sharply in Colorado, where about 180,000 undocumented immigrants now live.

“We rely on all, I repeat all residents to keep our community safe,” Robert Ticer, Avon chief of police and former Arizona law enforcer, said.  

Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said he thought the bill was a reasonable first step and that asking Colorado law enforcement agents to enforce immigration status would be similar to enforcing other crimes.

Still, before the final gavel struck on the bill, Heath explained whether unconstitutional or not the bill proposed a Colorado he was unwilling to sanction.

“I just don’t think that is what Colorado is about,” Heath said.

Lambert told The Colorado Independent that similar bills are running in the House. He said there was no tactic behind running the bill in the Senate. Instead, he said that it was his responsibility to run this type of legislation.

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