A proposed ordinance to limit cooperation with federal immigration agencies on the part of the City of Denver easily passed through a Denver City Council committee on Wednesday. In addition, Mayor Michael Hancock (D) announced a draft executive order to remove Denver from immigration enforcement. City Council members Paul López and Robin Kniech proposed the ordinance that passed committee on a 6-1 vote. The proposed ordinance would go farther than the executive order.

If enacted, the proposed ordinance would prevent jail employees from contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the release of any individual without getting a signed warrant from a federal judge or magistrate. It would also require ICE to have a warrant to access secure areas of a jail that are off-limits to the public. “This bill is not about changing [ICE’s] responsibility, it’s not about impacting their job, it’s about simply saying, we are not required to do it and it’s not appropriate for us to do it,” said City Councilwoman Robin Kniech.

As of now, jailers notify ICE about immigrants of interest before release. Under the proposed city council ordinance, jail employees would not be required to give any notice to ICE of an inmate’s release without a warrant. Kniech pointed out that ICE agents know exactly who is being held in the city’s jail. “They will continue to know who’s in our jail based on the federal requirements,” Kniech said. “We will continue to follow the law and if you have a warrant, you get access to our jail, you get access to inmates and that is the practice in our country.”

Under the proposal, jailers would be required to notify ICE only about certain violent criminals and gang members. “Where the law requires us to provide access, where the law requires us to share information, we would do that. We would continue to do that,” Kniech said.

On Wednesday, city council members critiqued the mayor’s proposal. “[The executive order] does not include any prohibition on sharing of information or collecting of information that’s not required by law,” Kniech said. “It is not as tight or as clear as what our community has asked for.” The ordinance will face a vote before the full council on August 21 and a final vote on August 28.

Denver was the focus of criticism earlier this year because it gave ICE only 26 minutes’ notice before releasing Ever Valles, an inmate who was at the downtown Denver jail. Valles was a known “immigration enforcement priority” before he was arrested and charged with the murder of a man at a light rail station. So far, Federal immigration officials continue to target Denver's courthouses while looking for illegal immigrants. City officials have therefore decided to help some immigrants to avoid court appearances.

The Denver Post issued an opinion article in favor of Mayor Hancock’s proposed executive order.

According to Hancock’s office the order would:

- Establish a legal defense fund in partnership with Councilman Paul López and the Denver City Council, nonprofits and the legal community.

- Protect victims of crime regardless of their immigration status and hold violent offenders in our community accountable, including those who prey on immigrants.

The newspaper opined: “As Denver’s elected officials continue in their laudable effort to protect those in the country illegally, it is important they maintain clear distinction between those who are otherwise peaceful, productive, law-abiding citizens and those who are bad actors. “There is a big difference. Thankfully, Mayor Michael Hancock gets it.”

The Denver Post argued against the ordinance proposed by Kniech and Paul López, that would “make it illegal for Denver jailers to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents even when ICE has reason to suspect a jail inmate represents a threat to public safety.” Recognizing that everyone who is booked into jail “aren’t squeaky clean,” the newspaper said that Hancock’s order would not prevent jailers from giving notice to ICE of the release of wanted inmates.

“While courts have rightly ruled that jailers can’t hold freed inmates, Denver’s jailers presently try to give ICE agents word that release is imminent. The system is a flawed one, but it at least attempts to honor the goal of protecting the public. As we’ve seen, it really does happen that inmates ICE wanted for good reasons, but whose criminal records aren’t sufficient to warrant notification under the council members’ proposal, now face charges for having gone on to murder or kill.”

Moreover, the paper expressed concern that the proposed ordinance may bring about action from the federal government. It said:

“The council members’ proposal risks further angering U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The immigration hardliner would not be shy in joining critics calling the proposal proof of Denver’s sanctuary-city status. Presently, Hancock can arguably claim that label doesn’t apply. Should Kniech and López prevail, the label will stick and millions of federal dollars Denver relies on could dry up.”

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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