Red Colorado Counties Sue to Help ICE Arrest, Deport Illegal Immigrants
Red Colorado Counties Sue to Help ICE Arrest, Deport Illegal Immigrants

By Tom Ozimek

Two conservative Colorado counties—Douglas and El Paso—have sued the state of Colorado and its Democrat governor over laws that prevent local law enforcement from working with federal agents to arrest and deport illegal immigrants.

“The nation is facing an immigration crisis,” commissioners and sheriffs from Douglas and El Paso wrote in their complaint, which was filed on April 15 at the Denver County District Court.

The lawsuit targets two sanctuary state laws—House Bills 19-1124 and 23-1100—which prohibit local governments from joining with the federal government on immigration matters.

Specifically, the bills prohibit local law enforcement from arresting and detaining illegal immigrants. They also bar state judicial officials from sharing information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and prohibit local governments from entering into agreements with the federal government on matters of immigration enforcement.

“It is our intent to bring suit specifically to address the illegal immigration crisis now present in this country,” George Teal, chair of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

“Federal policies along the southern border … [have] resulted in an unlimited string of illegal immigrants into our communities,” Mr. Teal continued. “And we see it as the duty of the county to push back against the state laws that prohibit us from working with federal authorities to keep Douglas County and our communities safe.”

The conservative counties allege in their complaint that the two laws that they’re challenging, which were signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis over the past several years, are illegal and unconstitutional. They allege that the laws violate various provisions of the Colorado State Constitution, including on intergovernmental relationships and distribution of powers.

“We do believe we will have victory,” Mr. Teal added.

‘Stark’ Numbers

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said during the press conference that he understands the hardship that illegal immigrants face but the lawsuit is about protecting local communities and prioritizing people who immigrate by legal means.

“This is about putting America first and putting Coloradans first,” Mr. Laydon said, adding that he’s the first Latino elected commissioner in Douglas County and he recognizes the plight of those who are legitimately seeking refuge and asylum in the United States.

Mr. Laydon described as “stark” the number of illegal immigrants that have been bussed into Denver—around 40,000 people from Venezuela. In order to provide assistance to this group, the mayor of Democrat-controlled Denver has asked the City Council to cut $45.9 million from its annual budget to pay for an illegal immigrant response program.

Among the cuts will be layoffs or furloughs of city employees, reduced hiring for difficult-to-hire positions, fewer supplies purchases, and deferral of some technology and capital projects, the Denver Mayor’s office said.

Unlike Denver, Mr. Laydon’s county won’t be cutting services to residents in order to serve those that are coming here through improper channels.

“Douglas County is a great place to be. But Douglas County is a place where quality of life comes first. And we want to prioritize the rights of those who are legally here first,” he said.

The Colorado governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

A number of states have laws that either limit or expand the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with immigration enforcement, with “sanctuary cities” like Denver facing increased scrutiny and criticism amid the record influx of illegal immigrants into the United States.

Denver Cuts Taxpayer Services

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston recently announced a 2.5 percent budget cut to all city agencies—including the police, sheriff, and fire departments—in order to find around $45.9 million to help pay for the city’s new program to assist illegal immigrants.

The program, called the Denver Asylum Seekers Program, comes at a total price tag of nearly $90 million, with the other roughly half of the cost coming from a previously identified $44 million.

Earlier this year, Mr. Johnston asked all city departments to find creative ways to cut costs by up to 15 percent to pay for “newcomer operations,” though he said at a recent press conference and press release that the updated plan managed to avoid “the worst-case budget cut scenarios.”

The mayor’s office will take the brunt of the cuts, slashing 9.6 percent of its 2024 budget, followed by the Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency Department, which will cut 6.1 percent, according to a breakdown reported by KDVR-TV.

The Sheriff’s Department will face a 2.2 percent cut, the Police Department will see a 1.9 percent reduction, while the fire department budget will be reduced by 0.8 percent.

“After more than a year of facing this crisis together, Denver finally has a sustainable plan for treating our newcomers with dignity while avoiding the worst cuts to city services,” Mr. Johnston said in a statement. “So many times, we were told that we couldn’t be compassionate while still being fiscally responsible. Today is proof that our hardest challenges are still solvable and that together, we are the ones who will solve them.”

Denver and other Democratic-led cities had asked the Biden administration for aid to assist with the influx of migrants into their communities.

President Joe Biden asked Congress for $1.4 billion in funding for the effort as part of his budget. Congress refused and instead cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Shelter and Services Program from $800 million to $650 million.

“Whether we’d like the federal government to do it or not, that was no longer a choice for us,” Mr. Johnston said.

Jana Pruet contributed to this report.

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