Trump’s ‘sanctuary city’ crackdown could bring hammer down in Colorado

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Denver, Colo.-, January 26, 2017 | comments

Colorado could see significant impacts stemming from President Donald Trump’s actions on immigration.

Making good on a campaign promise, Trump on Wednesday signed executive actions aimed at quickly building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, punishing sanctuary cities and deporting undocumented immigrants.

The so-called “sanctuary city” issue is perhaps the most intriguing for Colorado, with cities such as Denver, Aurora and Boulder being labeled as such.

Defining a sanctuary city, however, could be a difficult legal challenge for the Trump administration.

Under the president’s action, federal grant money will be withheld from cities that offer safe harbor to undocumented immigrants from the federal government. Details of Trump’s plan were not made available on Wednesday, as the action is evolving.

The Boulder City Council recently declared its city a sanctuary in a symbolic gesture meant to defy Trump. But Denver and Aurora are a bit hazy in terms of the definition.

Some define a sanctuary city as leaving immigration enforcement up to the federal government, without questioning, detaining or handing over suspected undocumented immigrants. But there is no ordinance in Denver or Aurora that would underscore a specific definition.

“Denver does not have a policy of non-cooperation on immigration enforcement, and we have always complied with federal immigration laws,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

“But what Denver will not support is taking unlawful or unconstitutional actions on behalf of our federal forces. We have a history of being a city of opportunity for everyone and we have every intention to maintain our character.”

Denver received about $175 million in federal funding in 2015, according to the mayor’s office. Final figures for 2016 aren’t yet available.

Those who support sanctuary cities — including many in the law enforcement community — believe it is improper for local authorities to investigate immigration status, as it could discourage people from reporting emergencies and working closely with officials. They also point out that immigration status falls under federal law.

The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2014 there were about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. About 200,000 lived in Colorado, though those estimates are up for debate. Colorado ranks somewhere in the top 15 for undocumented immigrants, according to studies.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, one of the nation’s leading critics of illegal immigration, expressed relief Wednesday that actions were finally being taken.

“If he (Trump) wants a border czar who lives in Colorado, I’m his man,” Tancredo said, joking that as a long-time champion of cracking down on illegal immigration, he apparently just needed Trump’s billions and a television persona to make progress on the subject.

“I’m thrilled. It’s very satisfying,” Tancredo continued. “I hope it’s just the beginning of a much broader reform effort. Nobody wants it more than I do.”

The former congressman — who ran for president in 2008 under an immigration-reform platform and who twice ran for governor — said he would like to see elected officials who support sanctuary in their cities held civilly liable for any damage done as a result of not reporting a known undocumented immigrant to federal authorities.

One of Trump’s orders instructs the Department of Homeland Security to publicize the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants on a weekly basis.

To those who are assailing Trump’s decisions around immigration, Tancredo says, “Suck it up, buttercup… Deal with it.

“I had to for eight years. I had to deal with the fact that we had somebody in the Oval Office who hated every single thing about this country that I loved… I had to deal with that.”

But immigrant rights leaders had a much more somber view of the actions on Wednesday. They fear for themselves, their friends and families, worried that they will be separated, jailed and deported.

Brendan Greene, campaigns director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said he prefers the term “Fourth Amendment cities” over “sanctuary cities” because the cities and counties are refusing to hold people without probable cause or a warrant, as the Fourth Amendment requires.

“As Americans, I think all of us can stand up to the fact that we would never want to be detained and arrested without probable cause,” Greene said.

He added that it is a waste of resources for the federal government to build a border wall and round up undocumented immigrants, calling construction of the wall an effort to “further militarize our border.”

Greene said when Colorado experimented in 2006 with Senate Bill 90, an anti-immigration law that was dubbed “show me your papers,” immigrant communities lost trust between themselves and local law enforcement. The law required local law enforcement officers to decide if immigrants might be undocumented and report them to federal authorities. The Democratic-controlled legislature repealed the law in 2013.

But in the time that the law was on the books, it cost the state $13 million per year to implement, according to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, which studied the law in 2012. Costs included detaining immigrants who come to the attention of law enforcement after committing traffic or other minor offenses.

Immigrant rights advocates are considering lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of Trump’s orders.

“What the American people need to know is that the ‘sanctuary cities’ that Trump is targeting are in fact standing up and defending the constitutional rights of both citizens and non-citizens,” Greene said.

Meanwhile, Democrats used the executive actions as an opportunity to berate Trump.

“Not only does President Trump want to target hard-working people who have made so many positive contributions to their communities, and tear them from their families, but he wants to build a wall the American people will most assuredly be paying for?” asked Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver. “These un-American actions run completely counter to what we as Coloradans stand for, and we will not turn our backs on our neighbors.”

“We’ve seen the harmful consequences of forcing local law enforcement to do the work of immigration officials,” added state Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton. “It hurts families, destroys trust in our local police departments and harms public safety.”

“Today’s actions by President Trump conflict with America’s values and principles of freedom, liberty and prosperity, and contradict our nation’s history of inclusiveness,” concluded U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden. “Instead of building walls, we should be building economic opportunity in our communities. We should be focusing on comprehensive immigration reform which creates American jobs, lowers our deficit, strengthens our borders, and gives millions of undocumented Americans an earned pathway to citizenship.”

Content originally published by Colorado Politics on January 26, 2017.
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