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Mesa County passes resolution declaring itself a ‘non-sanctuary county’

‘I want to point out this is not intended to be cruel to immigrants,’ commissioner says
Hwy. 50 leads south away from Grand Junction, with Whitewater in the distance. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News, file)
Feb 23, 2024
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Mesa County’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a resolution declaring itself a “non-sanctuary county.”

The resolution does not contain any actionable items – instead, it declares the county “will not open shelters or provide services, other than emergency services, to uninvited migrants and/or illegal immigrants that may arrive in unincorporated Mesa County.” County commissioners said their resources are already overstrained, and they will not offer additional assistance specifically for immigrants.

“I want to point out this is not intended to be cruel to immigrants,” said District 3 County Commissioner Janet Rowland. “Our country was built on immigrants and we have a process for that. And the process is what protects our citizens and ensures the well-being of the migrants themselves. To invite people to freely come without going through the process and have no provisions for shelter, food, health care – that is cruel.”

The resolution notes that the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office established a policy in 2014 prohibiting the use of county jail cells to hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees who have not been criminally charged.

Nothing is stopping immigrants from traveling to Grand Junction, and nothing is stopping local nonprofits from aiding them. Deputy County Administrator Todd Hollenbeck said the county is working with nonprofit organizations in the area to plan for potential arrivals.

“We have the ability to stand up medical screening, to be able to make sure that people coming into our community are not infectious in some way,” he said. “We can give them resource information and packets. We will not be providing shelter or any further services beyond that, but we will have guides and resources to those local nonprofits that are capable of providing those services.”

Commissioners also passed a resolution to send a letter to Denver Mayor Mike Johnston outrightly telling him the county does not plan to aid the city with its ongoing challenges.

“We are hearing that your office is having conversations with one or more of our dedicated nonprofits who help the vulnerable in our county,” the letter said. “If that is the case, please know that while they are certainly well-intentioned organizations that can give out tangible supplies such as food, clothing, or bedding, they can’t cover the additional costs of education, healthcare, or shelter.”

The commissioners said in the letter that the county’s two major hospitals operated at a multimillion-dollar loss in 2022 for unreimbursed care and that School District 51 is one of the lowest-funded schools in the state.

Immigration experts say there’s not a consistent legal definition for “sanctuary cities” or counties.

While Denver and state lawmakers have passed laws making it harder for local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration officials, ICE is still free to conduct its own operations and detain undocumented immigrants in its own facilities. That includes the agency’s detainment center in Aurora, which currently houses roughly 900 people.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.