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Colorado lawmakers considering ban on immigration detention agreements

Critics argue ban would do more harm, threaten public safety
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Posted at 2:43 PM, Feb 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-26 19:25:29-05

DENVER — A hotly contested immigration bill is making its way through the Colorado legislature.

House Bill 23-1100 would ban state and local governmental agencies from entering into immigration detention agreements for civil immigration purposes.

Such agreements allow county and local jails to house migrants who are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The agreements also provide ICE and private detention facilities with more space to keep detainees.

“We're using taxpayers’ dollars to extend the arms and facilities of ICE, and we don't think that's a good use of taxpayers' money,” said State Rep. Naquetta Ricks. “The federal government has the right to do as they do. But I don't think that state tax dollars should be going to enhance the work that they're doing.”

Ricks, a Democrat who represents Arapahoe County, is one of the chief sponsors of the bill.

“You're harming people by having a part of our community locked up. This is a civil matter, not criminal,” said Ricks. “We want to keep families together. We want to make sure that undocumented people who have committed a civil infraction, which is not criminal, get the same type of process of due process as someone who would have their papers going through the same process. They would not be locked up for 30 days in the detention center for a civil matter.”

Critics of the bill, including Republican state lawmakers, laid out several reasons why they believe the proposal is a bad idea.

Colorado lawmakers considering ban on immigration detention agreements

They argue it will have unintended consequences, like forcing undocumented immigrants to be transported to facilities out of state, farther away from loved ones.

“I think that the unintended consequences, actually will harm those most vulnerable folks in our state and in our community,” said State Rep. Gabe Evans, a Republican who represents parts of Adams and Weld counties.

Opponents of the bill say it may also encourage more undocumented migrants to come to Colorado, draining state and local resources.

“If this bill passes in its current form, does that create an incentive for asylum seekers and folks who are not in this country legally to come to Colorado? And what is the impact that that has on the rest of our community?” said Evans. “How do we handle that? Do we have the resources, the capability and the workforce?”

They also argue that the legislation is a threat to public safety and believe it will result in dangerous criminals being released from jail.

“I think it's important that we look at the players that are coming into this country,” said State Rep. Ty Winter, a Republican who represents several counties in southeastern Colorado. “There are people coming into this country and looking for asylum, they're looking for a place to stay. But there are people that have nefarious reasons for coming into this country.”

Ricks and the other sponsors of the legislation reject all those arguments.

“Colorado is still going to be safe. We're not looking at letting criminals in the street,” said Ricks. “This is for civil matters, period, which does not involve any criminal elements or criminal acts.”

In addition to Ricks, other primary sponsors of the bill include State Rep. Lorena Garcia, State Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis and State Rep. Julie Gonzales.

If approved and signed into law, the legislation would prohibit immigration detention agreements starting on Jan. 1, 2024.

Any state or local governmental entity with an existing immigration detention agreement must terminate it by that date.

The Colorado House is set to take a final vote on the bill this week, possibly as soon as Monday.

If it passes, it must still go to the Colorado Senate.