Colorado lawmakers want to make it harder for ICE to come into schools, courthouses and health facilities (but don’t call it a sanctuary bill)

Two Denver-area House Democrats announced their support for a bill that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from working with ICE and prohibit them from making arrests in public spaces.

Colorado State Representative Susan Lontine speaks in support of "Virginia's Law," HB18-1417, at the State Capitol, April 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Colorado State Representative Dan Pabon speaks in support of "Virginia's Law," HB18-1417, at the State Capitol, April 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) immigration; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado;
Colorado State Representative Dan Pabon speaks in support of “Virginia’s Law,” HB18-1417, at the State Capitol, April 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Two Denver-area House Democrats on Wednesday pushed for support for a bill that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and prevent federal agents making arrests at courthouses and other public spaces.

Virginia’s Law, officially HB18-1417, sounds similar to the so-called sanctuary state bill in California last year, but Denver area state Rep. Dan Pabon said he wouldn’t use that term to describe it. Pabon is co-sponsoring the bill with state Rep. Susan Lontine.

The bill was scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee. The bill is named after Virginia Mancinasa, a Glenwood Springs woman who ended up detained by ICE in 2011 after calling 911 to report an attack from her husband.

Supporters of the bill gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to urge legislators to support the bill. Among those in attendance were students, a teacher and a medical professional who detailed how concerns over ICE arrests among immigrant communities impact their daily lives.

“This legislation is about protecting Colorado state students across our state schools and universities, ensuring that our young people are guaranteed a safe and protective environment in which to learn,” Lontine said Wednesday.

The bill isn’t a free pass: Anyone who commits a crime would still be held responsible, Pabon said.

Boulder Valley teacher Pati Hernandez speaks in support of "Virginia's Law," HB18-1417, at the Colorado State Capitol, April 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) immigration; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado;
Boulder Valley teacher Pati Hernandez speaks in support of “Virginia’s Law,” HB18-1417, at the Colorado State Capitol, April 25, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Pabon said the bill would require ICE agents to present a judicial order, like a warrant, before making an arrest of an undocumented person in public spaces. It would require spaces like courthouses, public schools, public health facilities, shelters and other places where services are offered to develop policies that ensure they’re accessible to undocumented people.

Advocates say the bill gives undocumented immigrants some peace of mind when visiting places some of them now avoid for fear of arrest.

“I hope that this session, the Colorado legislature will also show that they believe in these things and pass Virginia’s Law,” Gabriela Flora, of American Friends Service Committee, said Wednesday. “Virginia’s Law, fundamentally, is about making our community safe for people to go to school, to court and to health clinics.”

Their concerns are highlighted by undocumented people who have been arrested in courthouses. Pabon said the bill would ensure victims of sexual violence or domestic assault can testify in courts without fearing arrest. He said victims especially “deserve a whole better.”

“It has to stop,” Pabon said.

Pati Hernandez, a fourth-grade teacher in Boulder, said she’s only been teaching for two years but has seen and heard multiple stories of students affected by deportations. She said those stories are familiar to her own experiences: Her father was detained by ICE when she was in fifth grade.

“I suffer a lot of hatred toward the legal system and the government for sending my dad away,” Hernandez said. “I do not want this to happen to my daughter or any other children.”

Colorado High School Charter senior Hugo Gerardo Torres Portillo, a DACA recipient, said places like his school and hospitals should be safe for everyone. He said the rise in ICE raids across the country has caused a heightened level of anxiety for Torres Portillo and his classmates, adding the bill would help alleviate some of those concerns.

“I do not feel safe knowing that at any moment my future can be taken away by deportation,” Torres Portillo said.

We’ve reached out to state Rep. Dave Williams, who sits on the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee, about what he thinks of the bill (spoiler: He probably isn’t a fan, having introduced an anti-sanctuary city bill this session after introducing a similar one last year). He’s been vocal about his opposition in the past.

Esteban L. Hernandez

Author: Esteban L. Hernandez

Esteban L. Hernandez is covering politics and other general assignment topics for Denverite. A native of Aurora, he previously worked at the New Haven Register and Register Citizen in Connecticut. He's a graduate of Hinkley High School in Aurora and the University of Colorado. He can be reached at 303-502-2805, ehernandez@denverite.com or @EstebanHRZ on Twitter.