A bill that would have pulled state funding from local governments refusing to participate in the controversial Secure Communities program died in the Senate Monday. HB 1140, sponsored by Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial , met its end under fire from immigrant advocates who termed the program a racist immigration dragnet and from rural communities who saw it as an unfunded mandate they simply could not support.
The bill, which was pushed in the House as a means to remove dangerous convicted criminal aliens, would have denied any local government refusing to comply with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program both cigarette and severance tax funds dispersed by the state. That money would have then been dispersed instead to communities who were taking part in the program.
Former Gov. Bill Ritter signed a memorandum of agreement in January with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to bring Secure Communities to Colorado. The program is designed to target criminal illegal aliens first, but does extend to those who have not committed previous crimes beyond being in the country illegally.
“In reality it is a mass deportation dragnet,” Hans Meyer, legal director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said. “That is how it functions and that is what the evidence has borne out.”
A recent Freedom of Information Act Request found that during Fiscal Year 2010, of the 49,839 undocumented aliens deported through the program, 13,799 of those were non-criminals, a number almost equal to the number of serious offenders also removed.
Harvey and Colorado sheriffs defended the bill as a way to enforce Colorado’s laws that compel local jurisdictions to refer suspected illegal immigrants to ICE.
Under the program, the fingerprints of all individuals arrested would be sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. The Bureau in turn would check those prints with FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement databases for immigration status and prior criminal records.
Though still in its pilot phase, Secure Communities is scheduled to be in every United States county by 2013.
Responding to accusations that his bill was racist, Harvey said there was nothing racist about fingerprints. He said that the manner in which law enforcement is asked to determine the legal status of those arrested now, under SB 90, is far worse than what would occur under the ICE program.
“I think this is probably the least intrusive in a color blind way,” Harvey said. “It is not going after people based on their skin color but based on their fingerprint.”
Chad Day, Yuma County sheriff, representing the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said that while they supported Secure Communities, the program is simply too costly for small counties such as his own to acquire the appropriate technology to comply with the bill.
“There are seventeen sheriffs offices in the state right now that can’t comply because they lag in technology,” Day said. “There is just not enough money to go around.”
Immigrant advocates and one self-proclaimed conservative from southern Colorado said that other costs would be incurred by the implementation of the program. They pointed to the detention of suspected illegal immigrants who are held in county jails at the request of ICE. They said the increase was an unnecessary cost during a trying economic time for the state.
While Harvey said that there were grants that could be acquired by the local jurisdictions to help them implement the program, for Democrats on the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee that simply wasn’t enough. The bill died on a party line vote.