Prioritizing Public Safety Over Immigration Enforcement

By: Robin Kniech

The safety of our community and each resident who calls Denver home is of paramount importance. A vital component to local public safety is community trust in our law enforcement and in our government agencies. This is true for both our immigrant and non-immigrant communities. When members of our community are scared to reach out to the police for help, to send their children to school, or to walk into the Webb building to pay a parking ticket, that is a problem. And not just for them and their families, but for all of us. In Denver, we rely on each other and we watch each other’s backs because that is the community we have built: a community of inclusion, support and respect. Public safety requires trust in our institutions and in each other. That is why Councilman Lopez and I sponsored the Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act. These efforts memorialized existing practices that limit the city’s role in immigration enforcement, which passed unanimously on August 28.

We know of nine domestic violence victims in Denver who did not show up to testify out of fear that ICE would be called. A 2017 FiveThirtyEight report found a 12 percent drop in crime reporting by Latinos and an increase in crime reporting by all other demographics. These trends are troubling, and the Act was intended to help address these type of concerns and ultimately promote greater public trust.

The Act memorializes our existing policies and clarifies practices of not engaging in immigration enforcement so that our immigrant community and public employees alike will know what to expect from the City of Denver. The ordinance complies with federal law (8 USC § 1373) and the City of Denver will share information on immigration status, if we have it, when required by law. It is not our job, however, to go beyond what the law requires. City employees are not trained or qualified to carry out immigration enforcement actions. City employees should remain focused on their local responsibilities.

This ordinance does three primary things:

  • It memorializes existing City policy by prohibiting the detention of individuals beyond their sentence. The City ceased this practice in 2013, pursuant to court decisions, but it has not yet been incorporated into the city code.
  • It prohibits the request or recording of data on immigration status except where already required by state or federal law. This is already the predominant practice, but the law clarifies that we also won’t share personal information about immigrants to ensure people continue to show up for court or city services without fear of being reported.
  • It disallows the use of city resources for civil immigration enforcement, including prohibiting access to private areas or facilities.

ICE has access to the same database Denver uses for fingerprinting individuals detained in our jail. This means ICE knows who is in custody at all times. This ordinance does not inhibit the current capabilities of ICE, but it makes clear immigration enforcement is their responsibility, not the city’s. Any notifications coming from our jail to ICE will include notification of legal rights to the individuals involved.

A community-formed coalition, Councilman Lopez and I started working together on this ordinance before the horrendous display of hatred and intolerance in Charlottesville, VA. We were all sickened and outraged, and it’s important to reiterate that Denver has no room for hate. This ordinance is the right thing to do. Even if it cannot stop immoral and chaotic immigration practices from the Trump Administration, it sends a message to all of Denver’s residents that we stand with the diverse people of Denver and are committed to the safety of each and every person, regardless of skin color, gender or immigration status. As my colleague Councilman Lopez stated, “This is Denver. We are united and we will not be bullied or coerced.”

This article originally appeared in Denver Metro Media in October of 2017.

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