City officials and state representatives, attorneys and advocates led the discussion that sought to answer what, exactly, Denver should do as federal immigration policies become stricter. Also, is or isn’t Denver a “sanctuary city,” and what does that even mean?
Whether Denver is a sanctuary city will be determined by its actions in response to a federal crackdown, the full form of which is still taking shape. Will the city assist federal officials by turning over undocumented people who pass through our legal system? Will it resist?
The executive order seems directed at local entities that don’t honor requests to hold people who have been arrested until federal authorities can get a warrant on immigration charges. That’s Denver’s policy. Westword reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might already have us on a list of “declined detainers.” But to the panel it seemed this city still has yet to define itself.
Many who spoke shared a message of conviction, saying Denver should and will protect its undocumented residents. City Councilman Paul Lopez, who represents neighborhoods in District 3 from West Colfax to Westwood, spoke defiantly against the president and said any retaliatory action from Washington would be met with a lawsuit.
But his colleague, Councilwoman At-large Debbie Ortega, struck a more cautious tone, saying the loss of federal funds is a real concern. Denver got $175 million in money from the federal government in 2015.
“It’s something that we should ensure we are thoughtful about,” she said, “so that we are not putting more people at risk than those who are already.”
While Mayor Michael Hancock was out of town, Deputy City Attorney Cristal Torres DeHerrer represented his office and spoke with a rhetoric more similar to Lopez. “I want to make it very clear,” she said. “We are ready to stand and fight.”
Meanwhile a fight is brewing in the state legislature. Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat who represents state House District 31, said he’s crafting a bill to limit the state’s ability to communicate with federal immigration officials and make it illegal to make a registry of undocumented residents, among other things.
“But there are people at the State Capitol who don’t believe in humanity,” Salazar said. He described an “opposite” bill being crafted by Rep. Dave Williams, a Republican who represents District 15, that would hold officials who enact sanctuary policies personally liable if an undocumented resident “ends up harming somebody.”
“Write his name down and call him tomorrow,” Salazar told the crowd. “Tell him we will not tolerate any more divisiveness.”
We have a wide-angle video of the whole meeting on our Facebook page.