Aurora examines its ‘sanctuary city’ label

Aurora’s city council held a special study session Monday evening to examine its perceived status as a “sanctuary city.” This comes amidst increased scrutiny from the White House, which recently included the Aurora Detention Center in a list of jurisdictions with policies that limit cooperation with ICE.

Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz said his department will not help ICE agents with immigration roundups, but will certainly arrest immigrants if they commit a crime. Writes 9News, “He said the policy is clear: Officers are prohibited from proactively investigating, detaining or enforcing immigration just for determining a person’s status.”

In other words, “We don’t get involved in sweeps,” said Mayor Steve Hogan. “We don’t randomly stop people and check their papers. We value this relationship, and it’s for public safety. It’s for everybody’s safety.” Hogan has previously rejected the sanctuary city label for Aurora, though he acknowledges that the term has no legal definition.

The council discussed a potential resolution using terms other than “sanctuary city” to convey that immigrants are welcome, 9News reports.

The session was open to the public, but no public comment was permitted, which prompted a press conference by the Colorado People’s Alliance outside the Aurora Municipal Center prior to the meeting.

“We are here to tell city council that this is not ok,” said Lizeth Chacon, Executive Director of Colorado People’s Alliance. “Work with us on the issues as our organization has done so for years. Our organization has a history of working with the Aurora Police Department on immigration and with the Arapahoe County Sherriff’s department, so we ask the same of the city of Aurora.”

Jeff Sessions formally announced Monday from the White House that cities and states risk losing federal grants by providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants.“Some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate the enforcement of our immigration laws. This includes refusing to detain known felons,” he said during the press briefing. “Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.”

City council members discussed Aurora’s policies, which officials say are similar to many neighboring law enforcement agencies and do not break any federal immigration enforcement laws.

Aurora is certainly in good company: All of the Colorado’s 64 county sheriff’s departments currently refuse to comply with federal “detainer orders” without a warrant signed by a judge. This practice is fairly widespread, and many critics and cities alike define “sanctuary cities” as those who follow it.

But Sessions’ characterization of sanctuary cities, reports Vox, is misleading. The Trump administration is defining sanctuary cities less broadly than expected, not simply as those which do not enforce federal immigration laws, but as those with policies restricting communication with ICE. And while it’s unclear how many cities will be targeted under this narrower definition, this tactic could actually benefit the President.

“The Trump administration’s decision to define “sanctuary cities” in a limited way makes it possible they might win a court battle — or at least drag it out long enough that cities lose their political appetite for a fight,” Vox reports.

Kelsey Ray contributed to this report. 

Cover image: Lizeth Chacon, Executive Director of Colorado People’s Alliance, addresses press ahead of an Aurora City Council special session on immigration enforcement policy. Photo by Daniel Sauvé.