A bill preventing Colorado county jails from holding people over suspected civil immigration violations will take effect after Gov. Jared Polis signed off on it Tuesday, despite a plea for a veto from the Teller County sheriff.
HB23-1100 prevents state and local governments from entering into or renewing any contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold immigrants in county jails when immigration detention centers are at capacity or not easily accessible over allegedly violating civil immigration laws. Through these intergovernmental service agreements, known as IGSAs, ICE pays county jails a daily rate to hold the inmates. Only two counties in the state have such agreements with ICE: Teller and Moffat counties, and those agreements have to be terminated by Jan. 1.
The new law also prevents state and local governments from facilitating the opening of new immigration detention facilities run by private prison companies. However, it does not apply to current facilities, so the Geo Group’s immigration detention center in Aurora won’t be affected.
It’s unclear exactly how much money the counties make per year from their IGSA agreements with ICE. Teller and Moffat county sheriff’s offices did not return multiple requests for comment. At a legislative committee hearing on the bill, Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell told lawmakers that the reimbursement rate from the federal government is $93 per day and immigrants are often held for up to 30 days. About 40 beds of the 120 in the jail — depending on the local inmate population — are allocated for holds from the federal government, including U.S. Marshals and ICE.
According to one of the bill sponsors, Democratic Rep. Naquetta Ricks of Aurora, Moffat County will likely not be affected like Teller because the Moffat jail houses people for criminal violations, not civil.
“Our immigrant communities have suffered from the fear of being stopped by the police, stopped for traffic infractions or expired tags, and then it turns into an immigration matter,” Ricks said of the need for the law. The lawmaker does not believe that taxpayer dollars should be used as an extension of ICE to detain people over suspected civil immigration violations, especially when they otherwise could just be paying a fine for a traffic infraction.
Activists and lawmakers were worried for weeks that Polis would veto the bill. The governor did not sign the bill until the second-to-last day of the deadline for it to take effect.
ICE officials did not return a request for comment Tuesday, but the former Denver field office director has testified against the bill.
Mikesell and Teller County commissioners sent a letter April 24 to the governor, appealing to him to reject the bill. The Denver Post obtained a copy of the letter through a Colorado Open Records Act request.
“This bill eliminates Colorado oversight of immigrants in federal detention also, for the first time, would create a prohibition from the state against a county which disallows it from entering into a contract with the Federal Government to enforce the laws of the United States,” they wrote.
“Despite the false narrative, Teller County’s program has been exemplary. We provided 5 years of data to the Senate Sponsors, offered increased state oversight for our program and other concessions to keep this critical program,” the letter continued. “All of this was ignored. Teller County does not hunt down anyone we only receive detainees already in the system …”
But supporters of the bill have said that people suspected of civil immigration violations should not be held in county jails with people suspected of criminal violations, and that Colorado should not be doing the job of the federal government.
In recent years, Colorado lawmakers have passed — and Polis has signed — a series of laws to limit state and local government cooperation with ICE on civil immigration matters. The laws have resulted in Colorado being considered a so-called sanctuary state, which Polis has repeatedly rejected, most recently in a signing statement with the new law in which he wrote that ICE “has a legitimate and important role in our state and in our nation.” He said he would not support state laws preventing cooperation with the federal government.
The new law, Polis wrote, won’t change ICE’s ability to detain people — rules set by the federal government, local governments’ ability to cooperate on enforcement actions, and ICE’s authority to open or operate its own detention facilities within the state as well as contract with private entities for enforcement.
It also doesn’t “prohibit local governments and law enforcement from cooperating, investigating and enforcing criminal laws or civil laws, nor does it shield anyone from criminal prosecution or civil liability by local, state or federal governments,” he wrote.
The new law won’t fix the broken immigration system, Polis said, “but instead focuses on the consequences of a system that tears families apart and prevents economic growth.”
Still, Polis wrote that the end of these agreements would negatively affect Teller County’s finances and called on the legislature to help address the budget shortfall — something Ricks rejected, saying the county shouldn’t be profiting off the detention of its residents.
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