Protesters target Colorado anti-sanctuary cities bill ahead of hearing

Karla Gonzales Garcia, program director at Color, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Feb. 22, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Karla Gonzales Garcia, program director at Color, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Feb. 22, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Civil rights protesters gathered Wednesday at the Capitol to protest the “Colorado Politician Accountability Act,” a hot-button Republican House bill being heard in the House State Affairs committee.

The bill, HB 1134, is sponsored by Colorado Springs freshman Rep. Dave Williams. It taps into the harsh view of so-called sanctuary policies that marked the Trump presidential campaign last year and dovetails with the immigration and deportation executive order issued by the president this week.

“To say I’m unhappy and disturbed by House Bill 1134 is an understatement,” said Karla Gonzales Garcia, program director at Color, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. “Children shouldn’t have to live in fear that law enforcement will come in the dead of night and take their parents away… We shouldn’t have to worry that if we go to court to seek protection from domestic abusers that we will be detained.”

Denise Maes, an attorney with the Colorado ACLU, said the bill would violate the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guards against arrest and detention without probable cause. She said it also violated the Colorado Constitution for similar reasons. And it would violate state statutes that say no one but a peace officer can arrest or detain someone and not unless they have committed a crime.

She said the bill would force witnesses and victims of crime into the shadows by making them fear law enforcement authorities.

“We will resist this bill!” she said.

The arguments made against the bill by the protest speakers served as a preview of testimony that will stretch for hours around the bill during the committee hearing, even though the end is little in doubt: Majority Democratic committee members will surely vote to kill the bill.

The bill has made headlines around the nation. Conservative lawmakers in other states are introducing their own versions. Williams has clearly hit a vein.

Trump, at his enormous stadium campaign rallies, routinely detailed lurid crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and vowed to bring the victims justice, which he argued was being denied by bureaucratic local law enforcement policies that acted to shield undocumented criminals.

Williams told the Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning last month that he wants victims of sanctuary policies to be able to file lawsuits and lodge criminal complaints against the “lawless politicians” behind the policies. He said his bill aims to hold officials criminally liable for the “carnage” committed by some immigrants.

“As the first Latino elected to Colorado House District 15,” he said, “I think it’s important that we do all we can to uphold the rule of law and ensure all communities, regardless of race or ethnicity, are protected from dangerous policies that are forced on us by radical, out-of-touch politicians who continually sell out to an unlawful agenda that increases the number of criminals, and needless deaths among our fellow citizens.”

This is all well-tread territory in Colorado. The danger allegedly posed by sanctuary policies is a topic that former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo popularized on the stump in the state for years, even after he left Congress in 2008. It has similarly fueled national talk radio and cable news segments.

Indeed, as the rally echoed in the Capitol staircases, Tancredo was snacking in the basement cafeteria, waiting to testify in support of the bill.

“I keep going back and forth from the ‘Who’s He’ column to the ‘Who’s Who’ column. I’m back in the ‘Who’s Who’ column now for a minute or two,” he told The Statesman. “On CNN last night, the Latino guy I was debating said, ‘This guy, Tancredo was Donald Trump before there was Donald Trump.’” Tancredo laughed uproariously at the thought.

In an email announcing the protest rally at the Capitol, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said the bill sought to “claw back some of the most important victories of the immigrant rights movement,” in the state. The Coalition said Williams was seeking in effect to resurrect the state’s 2006 “Show Me Your Papers Law,” which required local law-enforcement to investigate immigration status during routine policing operations. The law was repealed in 2013.

Williams wants to “punish elected officials with a two-year jail sentence, including sheriffs, who do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement,” read the email.

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