The Denver City Council agreed Monday to change to local sentencing guidelines in order to shield legal immigrants convicted of domestic violence from deportation proceedings.
In a unanimous 12-0 vote, council members revised criminal penalties for several “low-level” crimes, reducing the maximum sentence to less than 365 days in jail. Under federal law, a criminal conviction that results in a sentence of a year or more is grounds for deporting any alien, including U.S. visa holders and legal permanent residents.
The changes, originally proposed by Denver mayor Michael Hancock, split criminal violations of city ordinances into three categories, reports the Denver Post. A first-time domestic violence charge is now considered a “mid-level” offense — comparable to crimes such as trespassing and shoplifting — and will carry a sentence of 300 days in jail and a $999 fine.
City code maintains the current maximum of a year in jail and a $999 fine for just seven serious offenses, including violent assaults and “repeated” domestic violence.
Denver officials say the revised sentencing guidelines are a response to the Trump administration’s more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. Although federal authorities have focused on illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds, Hancock says the changes are necessary to ensure that city offenses can’t be used as a “deportation tool” against immigrants legally present in the U.S., reports the Washington Post.
“Over the past four months, the White House has issued a series of executive orders that have exacerbated our broken immigration system and have had a real impact on our community,” Hancock said Monday in a statement. “I have heard from many who are rightfully concerned. Denver is committed to taking actions that will protect our people’s rights and keep our city safe, welcoming and open.”
Denver joins several other U.S. cities that have revised prosecution or sentencing rules in order to prevent immigrants from facing deportation as a result of their criminal convictions.
In Baltimore, the state’s attorney’s office has ordered its staff to reconsider prosecution of illegal immigrants for low-level crimes if doing so will have “collateral consequences” on the defendant’s immigration status. That guidance followed a similar order from acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who in April told prosecutors to allow illegal immigrant defendants to plead down to minor crimes that wouldn’t normally qualify as grounds for deportation.
Despite the clear implications for immigration policy, the Hancock administration pitched the sentencing changes as a needed reform to Denver’s criminal justice system. The changes don’t affect more serious state-level crimes, which are handled through district court, Hancock says.
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