Jared Polis, longtime advocate for immigrants, could now stand in way of two reform bills

Twin proposals seek to limit cooperation between Colorado officials and ICE

Areli Gonzales Lopez, 3, is held by her mother, Sandra Lopez, at a rally at the Colorado State Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The rally was in support of Virginia's Law, which would limit the extent to which officials in Colorado can cooperate with ICE. (Photo by Evan Semón)

Gov. Jared Polis, who ardently supported immigrants’ rights as both a philanthropist and Congress member, may be the biggest obstacle to immigration reform measures this session.

Immigrant rights groups and Democratic lawmakers — who now control both chambers of the legislature — are hoping to pass two bills aimed at limiting the extent to which government agencies and law enforcers in Colorado can cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

One of those bills, introduced in the House in January by Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, would ban state and local officials from using public funds or resources to help enforce federal civil immigration laws. Such cooperation has been playing out in Colorado. Teller County, for example, authorized sheriff’s deputies to detain people whose immigration status is in question. The ACLU sued Teller over that practice, and the two sides settled last week.

The other measure — expected soon to be introduced in the House by Rep. Susan Lontine — would enable undocumented Coloradans to contact fire and law enforcement officials without fear that doing so will get them detained or deported. That bill, which is similar but not a carbon copy of a measure postponed last year, is known as Virginia’s Law, named after a woman named Virginia Mancinas who years ago called 9-1-1 in western Colorado to report that her husband was assaulting her, only to then be interviewed and detained by ICE.

More than 100 people rallied at the Capitol Wednesday in support of passing a version of Virginia’s Law in Colorado. Sen. Julie Gonzales, a longtime immigrants’ rights paralegal and organizer from Denver who will be sponsoring the bill in the Senate, assured the crowd that the bill is on its way, even though it has been delayed a few weeks beyond its initial expected filing date.

“Know that there are multiple avenues of attack in order to try to find solutions to protect and defend the rights of the immigrant community,” she said. “Know that that is happening.”

In an interview after the rally, Gonzales didn’t specify what, exactly, is holding up the bill. But, undoubtedly, Polis is a key factor behind the delay.

He founded New America Schools for immigrant and undocumented children — there are now three campuses in Colorado and two in New Mexico — and had a reputation in Congress as an outspoken supporter of DACA recipients. He once screamed that support on the House floor.

But as a newly elected Democratic governor running a state with both chambers under Democratic rule, he’s been treading lightly on progressive issues.

The perceived Boulder liberal campaigned as a moderate. He said many times as a candidate  last year that he would not support legislation to turn Colorado into a “sanctuary state,” even as his Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton, warned of that prospect repeatedly. Rather, Polis said at the time that he supports local control on “sanctuary” policies — meaning that when cities proclaim themselves places of “sanctuary” for the undocumented, as Boulder and others have done, he wouldn’t get in the way. But a sweeping, statewide policy, he’d add, would be a no-go for him.

His office did not respond to a request for an interview with Polis on Wednesday, but there’s no indication that his position has changed since the election.

Complicating the policy discussion is the fact that, in the immigration context, there is no formal definition of the term “sanctuary.” Very generally speaking, the word is used to indicate that officials in a particular jurisdiction aren’t going to go out of their way to tip off ICE, coordinate with the agency, or help round up undocumented immigrants. Different cities have adopted the label, but put in place vastly different policies.

The term has become politically charged under the administration of President Trump, who on many occasions has threatened to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary” cities he has derided – with much success among his Republican base – as giving free rein to undocumented immigrants, whom he often portrays as dangerous criminals intent on gaming the system.

That’s why those pushing these immigration bills in Colorado have resisted using the term.

When asked earlier this month whether she’d use the “sanctuary” label for her bill, Benavidez  said, “I wouldn’t call it that, because I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s perfectly fine for other people to call it that, but I’m not going to. I never call something — like, ‘That’s a monstrosity,'” she said, pointing to a nearby chair. “Like, ‘No, it’s a chair.’ But I can call it a monstrosity if I want to. People can call the bill whatever they want. I’m not going to call it that.”

The emphasis, supporters of that bill and Virginia’s Law say, should be less on semantics than on trying to foster a safer environment for some of Colorado’s most vulnerable people and for their neighbors. Immigrants’ fear of risking deportation by reporting a crime, they say, makes their communities less welcoming, and certainly less safe.

Veronica Rosas, a 13-year resident of Colorado with five kids, spoke at Wednesday’s rally about her “fear to report” anything to police.

“I’m a domestic violence survivor,” she said in Spanish. “My husband and myself had some problems but there were many different incidents that I let pass before I reported it to the police. I wanted to stop the abuse, but I didn’t want him to be separated from his children or to be reported to (ICE).”

Rosas isn’t alone in this perspective. Unauthorized immigrants living in Colorado are almost universally afraid of calling police, even when they, their children, or other people are in danger. And it’s not just cops they’re scared of. Attorneys and advocates say immigrants have been reported to ICE by county parole officers, Department of Motor Vehicle workers and even school staffers.

As Benavidez tells it, a person’s life shouldn’t be upended because of a necessary — and potentially lifesaving — interaction with a public official.

“There should be a real basis” for someone being reported to ICE, she said. “If that’s a request signed off by a judge, OK — but otherwise, we shouldn’t be expending any of our resources.”

Many Democratic state lawmakers clearly agree with that position. More than a dozen of them attended Wednesday’s rally.

But their support, as well as backing from groups like ACLU and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, hasn’t seemed so far to sway Polis, whom Gonzales knows has made it “exceptionally clear” that “he’s not going to sign a ‘sanctuary bill’.”

Gonzales doesn’t want to push a bill that’ll get vetoed, and she realizes that the term “sanctuary” is a hot-button for a governor trying to prove his moderate credentials. So what does it mean for her and others trying to convince him to back reform measures?

“We’re having lots of conversations about exactly that question,” Gonzales said. She and other supporters of the bill believe Virginia’s Law is less about providing “sanctuary” than clarifying that police shouldn’t be deputized by ICE, and that people should be able to call emergency responders if they’re in danger.

There’s a needle to thread here, Gonzales explained.

“I’m going to be super thoughtful about this,” she said. “I know that if we don’t get it right when we introduce the bill, that’s only going to make this more complicated.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Its funny how US citizens who call 911; who are stopped by the police for what ever reason; etc; can be pulled into jail if they have a warrant out for their arrest. The same should be true for anyone. Why do people have to treat illegals different?

    If you are in a court house for various reasons and there is a warrant out for your arrest and the court staff knows about it; local law enforcement are going to take you into custody but illegals should not have the same treatment.

    Its funny how this works and this is why Trump got elected. These bills need to die and we should concentrate on helping legal CO residents and not the illegal ones.

    A pig is still a pig no matter how you dress the pig up.

    • I believe you’re looking for “lipstick on the pig”….

      For instance…calling our current methods of granting asylum and eventual citizenry to immigrants coming to this country with hope of a better life for themselves and their families as adequate to deal with current demands is putting “lipstick on the pig”.

  2. More caravans on the way. The current migration at our border is costing U.S taxpayers a Kings ransom. Fleeing persecution? or fleeing for freebies? they sure don’t stay in Mexico when they reach “safety” or ask or offered political asylum in Mexico. Why? because Mexico will give them NOTHING. So they make the long journey to our border, our generous Democrats, and our tax dollars. Notice how many have made the long, difficult, dangerous journey to our country 8-9 months pregnant? Why would they do that? we all know. Give birth on American soil and the U.S. taxpayers will not only pay for the birth of you’re child but will also give you state government assistance.

    The Border Patrol, DHS, ICE our Military & the Army Corps of Engineers have all endorsed the need for a wall numerous times almost nightly. However, immigration experts Nancy Pelosi & Chuck Schumer disagree, saying the wall won’t work, oh and they also have zero ideas. I’ll go with the opinions of the border patrol not open borders crowd. Barrack Obama’s own border patrol chief, Mark Morgan, has repeatedly stated that walls work. They free up resources to focus on the points of entrances so they can detect more contraband and illegals.

    Democrats view U.S. citizens as acceptable collateral damage to their future long range goals of flooding the country and taxpayers paying the bill. Democrat politicians and their voters have put families at risk of being victimized by illegal aliens as in the cases Kate Steinly (nothing done) then…. Mollie Tibbetts, (nothing done) and now, Police Cpl. Ronil Singh nothing will be done…who’s next? These victims would be alive today if our border was secured

    To Democrats/Progressives/Socialists (whats the difference?) programs like Temporary Protective Status (TPS) or Deferred Action For Childhood arrivals (DACA) are permanent programs….there is nothing “temporary or deferred.” These programs are designed to admit refugees (usually from the third world) then Democrats fight to keep them here permanently using the charge of racism, religion, guilt against anyone opposed. Simple formula works great.

    Just a few examples of the more outrageous costs associated with illegal immigration, we will pass this burden on to our children & grand children as has been passed on to us.

    *Congress debating DACA in is costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Thank the parents and Barrack Obama.
    *Cost of educating illegal aliens is staggering. From K-12 it costs taxpayers on average $122,000 for EACH illegal alien student. This does not include the millions spent on bilingual ED, instructors, & day care. School class size are negatively impacted by illegal aliens and our students suffer as a result.
    *Taxpayers are funding “in state college tuition” discounts for illegal aliens. (AZ voted to terminate this taxpayer expense.) Cost to taxpayers over a billion dollars annually.
    *About one in five inmates in federal prison are foreign-born, and more than 90 percent of those are in the United States illegally. This does not include local jails and state prisons. At roughly $24,000 per year expense per inmate in Prison U do the math.
    *$3Million Dollars a DAY is spent to incarcerate, process Illegal aliens in the Criminal justice system.
    * Emergency services for city & states increase with illegal immigration (sanctuary cities). Taxpayer pay for every Police, Fire, Paramedic service calls for illegal aliens in their city’s. Taxpayers pay for all Hospital emergency room treatments, ambulances, medications. Hospital wait times for citizens are negatively impacted.
    *Every child birth by illegal aliens in the US is paid for with tax dollars.In the US, the average cost to have a baby without complications during delivery, is $10,808, which can increase to $30,000 when factoring in care provided before and after pregnancy (July 9, 2018 google.)
    * Section 8 housing. Citizens in poverty in many cases wait behind non citizens for housing.
    *$2.2 Billion dollars a year is spent on is spent on food assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, & taxpayer funded school lunches.

  3. Illegals don’t get welfare, food stamps, or whatever they call it now. And the illegals that are working pay SS, Federal and local taxes. And 1 out of 5 prisoners being illegal is not a very high percentage. Funny you don’t say anything about the orher 4 who are citizens. I would like to see immigration reform and not make it so hard to become a citizen. It takes years which is rediculous. It would make much more sense to streamline the path to citizenship. I think people forget that all of us are decendants of immigrants.

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