Unanimous Vote Makes Denver America’s Newest Sanctuary City


The Denver City Council on Monday night unanimously approved a bill that halts voluntary cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

In a 10-0 vote, councilmembers passed the Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act, an ordinance that codifies some existing municipal restrictions on assisting immigration agents and adds some new ones, making Denver a sanctuary city in practice if not in name.

Councilman Paul Lopez, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, characterized the vote as a clear message to the Trump administration that Denver will not help carry out its immigration enforcement agenda.

“We’re not going to let anyone [enlist local police] to do their dirty work,” Lopez said, according to The Denver Post. “Not even a sitting U.S. president, not even a rogue agency.”

“If you have any business with us whatsoever, we ask one thing — show us a warrant,” he added.

The new law bars municipal employees from inquiring or collecting information about a person’s immigration status and prevents jail officials from honoring detention requests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Those provisions were standard practice for Denver agencies before the bill’s passage — they are now codified into municipal law that can’t be overturned by a future executive order.

One new provision blocks immigration agents from accessing the secure areas of jails to interview criminal aliens without first presenting a criminal warrant signed by a judge or magistrate.

Jeffrey Lynch, the field office director for ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations in Denver, issued a scathing response to the vote:

“By passing this irresponsible ordinance, the City of Denver’s leadership has codified a dangerous policy that deliberately obstructs our country’s lawful immigration system, protects serious criminal alien offenders, and undermines public safety,” he said, according to The Denver Post.

Lynch warned that Denver’s sanctuary city law would lead to the unnecessary release of dangerous criminals into the community. He pointed to the case of Ever Valles, an illegal immigrant and suspected gang member who was released from the Denver County Jail in December 2016 without advance notice to ICE agents. Valles allegedly murdered a 32-year-old man at a Denver train station just weeks later.

Denver lawmakers say the sanctuary law provides a mechanism to prevent incidents like the Valles case from occurring again. In a compromise with Mayor Michael Hancock, the bill allows jail officials to notify ICE of the impending release of criminal alien inmates, though it does not establish a minimum timeframe for them to do so.

Hancock had insisted that ICE notification remain in the final version of the bill, arguing that it would make Denver less of a target for the Trump administration’s crackdown on sanctuary cities. Even with that concession, however, the sanctuary law could put Denver at risk of losing federal law enforcement grants.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month established new eligibility guidelines for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which doles out money to state and local police for equipment and criminal justice programs. Under the new rules, any jurisdiction applying for the grants must give immigration agents unrestricted access to jails and provide 48-hours notice before releasing criminal aliens subject to an ICE detainer.

Some observers say that Denver’s ICE notification policy gives it some wiggle room in arguing that it doesn’t run afoul of the revised guidelines, but the new restriction on letting ICE agents into its jails could make that a harder sell.

In 2016, the city and county of Denver received a combined total of $426,590 from the Byrne program, according to Department of Justice records.

Chicago and San Francisco, which have similar sanctuary policies on the books, have filed lawsuits against the Justice Department over the grant conditions.

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