Colo.'s ICE restrictions could earn 'sanctuary' label and jeopardize federal grants

While there is not a singular definition for a sanctuary city, legislation usually defines it as a city that prohibits police from complying with ICE detainers


Justin Wingerter
The Denver Post

DENVER — Last month, when Gov. Jared Polis signed into law legislation restricting Colorado’s cooperation with federal immigration officials, he placed the state squarely within the cross hairs of conservative efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants.

The bill Polis signed prohibits Colorado police from complying with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers — requests by ICE to hold suspected illegal immigrants beyond their scheduled release date from jail.

While there is not a singular definition for a sanctuary city, anti-sanctuary legislation in Congress usually defines it as a city that prohibits police from complying with ICE detainers. By that definition, the state has made virtually every city in Colorado a sanctuary city, vulnerable to losing billions in federal grants if presidential action or legislation were to crack down on sanctuaries.

There is the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act, which would make Colorado ineligible for certain infrastructure grants; the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, which would cost it police grants; the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act, which would bar it from all federal grants; the No Federal Funding to Benefit Sanctuary Cities Act, which would force it to return federal grants; and the Diamond and Silk Act, which would end its grants and open it up to lawsuits by crime victims.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican who represents Colorado’s rural east, will co-sponsor the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act, according to his office. The bill would attempt to shield sheriffs who comply with ICE detainers from repercussions if they defy the new state law.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, endorsed the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act on Twitter weeks ago. After The Denver Post asked about his support, the congressman’s tweets were deleted and blamed on a mix-up among his staff. He is not backing the bill due to the new Colorado law and is instead considering co-sponsoring a different bill that won’t punish Colorado sheriffs who want to work with ICE, according to his office.

The Economic Development Administration grants that would be withheld under the bill Buck supports are worth millions of dollars to Colorado communities. In 2017 they helped build broadband infrastructure in southwest Colorado’s San Miguel County after a coal plant’s closure there.

“Had that grant not happened, Norwood would still be using dial-up or wireless internet,” said Lynn Black, the San Miguel County administrator. “The medical center will now get lit up with enough broadband to retrieve files from the cloud.”

So, too, will a school, sheriff’s annex, local fairgrounds and public library as the county builds broadband technology taken for granted in urban areas but still missing from some small Colorado communities. “So, that was a very important grant for our rural areas,” Black said.

An $845,000 grant last year from the EDA hired economic development experts in southwest Colorado to attract businesses after the closure of a coal mine and impending shutdown of a coal-fueled power plant. They hope to shift jobs to agriculture and the region’s outdoor industry.

A few years before, a similar grant aided Estes Park as it recovered financially from disasters.”These (EDA) grants funded a couple of important studies,” said Jon Nicholas, president of that city’s economic development corporation.

“The broadband study is a great example, because we’re committing local money to follow through on that federal study,” he added. “The study probably would not have been done without it because our town was dealing with a lot of infrastructure reconstruction after the (2013) flood.”

Rep. Darin LaHood, an Illinois Republican and the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act’s chief sponsor, said in a news release that states which don’t abide by ICE detainers “need to have real consequences” and bureaucrats in those states, such as Colorado, “should be held accountable.” ICE detainers are requests to hold people, not court orders that must be followed.

The bill faces an impossible road to passage in the Democrat-controlled House. But political winds, and the president’s whims, could change quickly, to Colorado’s detriment.

Polis has insisted that Colorado is not a sanctuary state, battling the federal government over that label. In March, he and state Attorney General Phil Weiser sued the Justice Department for withholding law enforcement grant money. That case is pending in federal court.

Such cases illustrate the most immediate threat to Colorado’s federal grant money: executive action. The Trump administration could move to cut off more cash, as it did with Colorado’s $2.7 million for police radios in Durango and Yuma, body armor in Grand Junction and other law enforcement needs.

In 2016, Trump pledged to block all federal money to sanctuary cities. On Twitter last week, he said “politics will soon mandate” sanctuary cities end “because people from California, and all over the land, are demanding that Sanctuary Cities be GONE. No illegals, Drugs or Trafficking!”

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©2019 The Denver Post

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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