Why Colorado isn’t one of the states suing over DACA’s repeal

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, is sitting this one out.

Gianella Millan yells to high school students, most from Denver Center For International Studies, who walked out of class to attend a rally on the Auraria campus after the repeal of DACA, Sept. 5, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, is sitting this one out.

After the Trump administration announced the impending end of the DACA program, which granted protection from deportation and work authorization to immigrants who arrived in this country as children, 15 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the decision. The Democratic attorneys general of the plaintiff states said ending DACA was an unconstitutional effort to punish people with Mexican roots, as the Associated Press reported, and would hurt the economies of those states along with DACA recipients themselves.

Many Colorado elected officials have expressed a strong desire to see the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program continue. Most of them are Democrats, including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, but Republicans U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner have put their names on legislation that would protect people in this category.

The most obvious reason Colorado isn’t in this lawsuit is that Coffman is a Republican, and it’s pretty rare for attorneys general from the same party as the president to sue the federal government. However, a group of
Republican AGs threatened to do just that if President Donald Trump didn’t end DACA, and the Sept. 5 deadline they gave the administration was cited as a major factor in the timing of this week’s announcement. Coffman, who has not made illegal immigration a major issue as attorney general, didn’t join that one either.

“Both Republican and Democrat state attorneys general have drafted lawsuits regarding DACA,” she said in an emailed statement. “However, no court fight will provide a lasting solution to the significant policy and people issues surrounding DACA. This debate belongs in Congress and must result in a clear direction forward for this country and those who wish to call it home.”

Attorneys general and governors don’t always see eye to eye, especially when they’re of different parties.

When he was attorney general, Republican John Suthers sued the federal government over Obamacare requirements on Colorado’s behalf even as the state was expanding Medicaid, setting up its own exchange and enthusiastically embracing the health care law.

More recently, Coffman decided to appeal the Martinez decision, which said state regulators should give more weight to environmental and public health concerns when making decisions about oil and gas drilling, over the objections of Hickenlooper.

When Colorado joined environmental groups to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over delaying implementation of a new rule on methane emissions, Coffman declined to represent the state — she didn’t think the EPA’s decision was illegal or an intrusion on state regulatory authority — but she did approve the hiring of private counsel.

And in an expression of bipartisan support for the cannabis industry, Coffman signed onto a letter from Hickenlooper to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that said Colorado is managing its marijuana industry just fine.

Whether Colorado could yet join a DACA lawsuit with private counsel remains to be seen.

A spokeswoman said Hickenlooper is reviewing all potential courses of action that the state could take to support DACA recipients in an issue that is ultimately in the hands of Congress and the federal government.

Hickenlooper did join with other Democratic governors Thursday in signing a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to take action to protect DACA recipients.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.