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Colorado Becomes Seventh State to Prohibit Jailing Immigrants for ICE

by Jordan Arizmendi

On June 20, 2023, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a new law to “eliminate involvement in immigration detention” by local governments in the state. When it takes effect in 2024, House Bill 1100 will terminate detention agreements with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Teller and Moffat counties, the last two such contracts in the state. The bill also prohibits the state and all local governments from cooperating with any private prison company in the detention of immigrants.

HB 1100 is just another in a series of victories for Colorado immigrant advocates. Since Democrats took control of state government in 2019, Colorado has enacted several laws aimed at protecting those living in the state without federal authorization.

In May 2019, Polis signed HB 1124, which prevents jails from holding detainees past their release dates because they are subject to an ICE detainer. In March 2020, Polis signed Senate Bill 83, prohibiting civil arrests in courthouses – a practice immigrant advocates said impeded the criminal justice system. Additional Colorado bills now allow non-citizens to attain driver’s licenses and obtain housing benefits.

According to Migration Policy Institute, more than 150,000 people live in Colorado without legal status. That’s almost 3% of the state population living in fear of contacting law enforcement if they are victims of a crime or have witnessed a crime, advocates argue.

Milagro Chavez, an immigrant in Colorado without proper status, told lawmakers during a hearing earlier this year, “I was a victim of domestic violence. I was silent for years because I did not have the courage to ask the police for help, for fear they will work with ICE and detain me.”

Before HB 1100, Colorado residents without proper documentation could be arrested, regardless of whether they had committed a crime, and locked up in a local detention facility to await processing by ICE. The new law leaves just one lockup in the state to store immigrants – a private prison with a capacity of 1,500 in Aurora, operated by the GEO Group.

Retired ICE veteran John Fabbricatore pooh-poohed the law, citing the burden it puts on local law enforcement officials who arrest migrants they don’t intend to charge but want to deliver to ICE. “We have pretty bad winters out here,” he said. “If you arrest somebody down in Durango with ICE, you would have to drive them from Durango all the way up to the GEO facility in Aurora during that ice storm, or go over the mountain passes, or wherever, when now you could deliver them first to Teller County, hold them in Teller County.”

But National Immigrant Justice Center Associate Director Mark Fleming said that’s the point of laws like HB 1100 – to keep law-abiding migrants out of detention, where they can wait years for federal officials to process their asylum requests. “In states like Illinois, where I am, what we have noticed is that the number of people swept up into the pipeline for deportation goes drastically down,” he said.

Now it’s up to ICE to decide which migrants pose enough of a threat to use the agency’s own resources to pursue and detain them. “By passing this sort of legislation,” Fleming added, “we have forced ICE to prioritize its enforcement and it’s led to a drastic reduction of enforcement in the state. I’d suspect very similar patterns in Colorado.”


Sources: Bolts Magazine, Governing

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