DENVER (AP) — Denver is moving to reduce the sentences of most municipal offenses to less than a year in jail to help immigrants keep off the radar of immigration officials and avoid deportation.
Under a proposal by Mayor Michael Hancock's administration, maximum sentences for offenses including shoplifting, trespassing and the first or second instance of domestic violence would be eased to up to 300 days, but sentences for more serious violations like repeat domestic violence cases and assaults that cause injury or target police could still run for up to a year, The Denver Post reported Friday.
Meanwhile, lower-level offenses like vandalism or an assault that are motivated by race, religion or sexual orientation would be boosted into the highest level and be subject to up to a year in jail.
The proposed sentencing changes would not affect more serious crimes, including felonies, which are covered under state law.
Hancock said his office is acting on a long-standing goal to reform the city's justice system overall, but the timing is intended to address anxiety among immigrants about enforcement.
"The goal is that we ensure people are receiving appropriate punishment for their crime — and that we are not unnecessarily flagging people for deportation or punishing the homeless for low-level offenses," he told the newspaper.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is allowed to seek automatic deportations of people convicted of certain crimes, including those that carry a potential sentence of at least a year in jail and are ranked as an "aggravated felony" by the agency. That applies to both immigrants who are in the country legally and illegally.
The shift, which still must be considered by city council, came out of meetings with immigration rights advocates. Some of them want the city to go further and get rid of all yearlong sentences for city offenses. Julie Gonzales, the policy director for the Meyer Law Office, which focuses on immigration cases, said that would remove Denver from the "business of immigration enforcement."
Hancock said the proposal is meant to put both low-level offenders at ease and "protect the community from violent offenders and hateful actions."