Fearing Polis veto, lawmakers neuter bill meant to limit ICE’s reach in Colorado

Protestors, including immigrant rights activist Jeanette Vizguerra, blocked entrances at ICE's Colorado headquarters in August 2018. Lawmakers hope to pass immigration reforms in 2020. (Photo by Phil Cherner)

No sweeping immigrant rights bill will be passed this year in Colorado, after all.

Lawmakers still hope to pass something in the coming days, but resistance from Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has forced them to lop major portions off their proposal.

What immigration reform-minded lawmakers and their allies are left with now is a shell of what they once hoped to advance this legislative session.

House Bill 1124, Colorado Democrats’ second shot at installing sweeping immigrant protections this session — the first attempt fell apart in March — does seem a good bet to become law, provided lawmakers can find the time to pass it in the eight days that remain before session’s end.

Following major recent amendments made at the behest of Polis, HB-1124 would accomplish three main objectives, listed here in order of importance to advocates:

  • Banning state law enforcement officers from detaining people beyond their scheduled date of lawful release at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a codification of recent court rulings saying that doing so constitutes an illegal re-arrest
  • Banning probation officers from releasing personal identifying information to ICE about a detainee, unless ICE has a warrant to collect the information
  • Requiring law enforcement officers to provide an “advisement of rights” to immigrants ahead of interviews with federal immigration enforcement officers

The bill originally called for eliminating contractual agreements between Colorado law enforcement agencies and ICE, particularly in the form 287(g) agreements, which are designed to essentially deputize local officers as ICE agents who can refer detainees to federal officers.

Polis, a Democrat, has been supportive both this year and throughout his career of a slew of pro-immigrant efforts. But he also has made clear that he will not sign bills seeking to thwart local police or sheriff department cooperation with ICE’s enforcement of federal immigration law statewide. He favors local control.

“We look forward to having a strong relationship with ICE and other federal law enforcement agencies,” Polis said Monday during a rare press conference.

Recognizing this, Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, who is sponsoring HB-1124 with Rep. Susan Lontine, has amended the bill to remove the prohibition on contracts, including 287(g) forms.

She also pulled language that required ICE officers be kept out of non-public areas of county jails unless those officers had federal warrants.

“Probation was key. Advisement of rights, we got that. But there’s really not a lot left,” Lontine said Tuesday. “I’m glad we got done what we did. I wish we had done more.”

Benavidez could not be reached for comment.

Many in the immigrant rights community, including some at the Capitol, are frustrated that their biggest hurdle this year is a Democratic governor few suspected would oppose efforts to limit ICE’s reach in Colorado.

“We’re all disappointed in the governor, right? I’m disappointed,” Lontine said. “But is this better than nothing? Yeah.”