DENVER – The Legislature took a step toward repealing a strict immigration law against “sanctuary cities” that it passed in 2006.
Monday’s vote in the House, along with passage this month of a bill allowing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, signal a step back from the strict immigration laws the Legislature passed just six years ago in a vastly different political climate.
In 2006, Durango was one of a handful of cities that Republicans decried as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants because of policies that avoid using city resources to deport them.
Since then, however, the federal Secure Communities program has gone into effect. It places the federal priority on identifying dangerous illegal immigrants in local jails and deporting them.
Sponsors of House Bill 1258 said the Secure Communities program makes the state’s “sanctuary city” law redundant and unneeded.
Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, said repealing the 2006 law would help cut down on racial profiling by police.
“This is so critical in an effort to build trust between our communities and our law enforcement officials,” Williams said.
The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the County Sheriffs of Colorado support repealing the sanctuary cities bill. Police have complained that illegal immigrants who witness crimes are afraid to talk to local police because of fear of deportation.
Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, argued against repealing the 2006 law. He tried to amend HB 1258 to allow citizens to sue their police departments for not enforcing federal immigration laws.
“If we’re going to strike down our ability at the state level to effectively ban sanctuary cities – if we’re going to get rid of that state law – then let’s make sure our law-enforcement agencies and local governments enforce federal law,” Holbert said.
Just one Republican, Rep. Timothy Dore of Elizabeth, joined all Democrats in voting for the bill.
Locally, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, voted against it, while Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, was out sick and did not vote.
The bill passed the House 36-26 and now goes to the Senate.
Although most Republicans opposed it, they did not put up a protracted fight against the bill and offered no debate Monday.
It was a different story in 2006.
That year, large rallies on both sides of the illegal immigration debate rattled legislators, and then-Gov. Bill Owens called a special session about illegal immigration.
Democrats were eager to avoid a ballot question on the topic, so they bragged after the special session that they had passed the nation’s toughest immigration law. It forbade government benefits to people who couldn’t prove their citizenship.
Earlier this year, the Legislature created a major exception to that law by granting in-state tuition to children who immigrated illegally with their parents. Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign that bill soon.
The shift on immigration rhetoric is easy to see in what’s shaping up to be one of the hottest congressional races of 2014. In the Denver suburbs, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman is defending his seat against former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.
Romanoff sponsored the law denying benefits in 2006, and he voted for the sanctuary city bill. He told television station Fox 31 that he now agrees with repealing the sanctuary law.
Coffman, meanwhile, now says he supports legal status for some illegal immigrants. Just two years ago, he spoke out against the Dream Act, calling it a nightmare. The bill would give young people brought to the United States illegally a path to citizenship and the possibility of going to college.