House Judiciary Committee Democrats Thursday evening passed Thornton Rep. Joe Salazar’s states’ rights Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act. The bill now heads to the House floor for debate.
House Bill 1230, the “Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act,” aims to head off involvement on the part of Colorado state and local officials in any federal government efforts to illegally or unconstitutionally target for monitoring or detention Coloradans based on race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, or religious affiliation.
Salazar is a civil rights attorney who is running for attorney general. He told the committee that the bill is a response to the dark politics and harsh rhetoric of the Trump campaign and presidency, where anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric has boiled to the surface of national debate and white nationalist groups have been emboldened.
The Trump administration has openly discussed tapping local police and the national guard to assist in rounding up undocumented residents, Salazar pointed out. And the rhetoric and policy proposals have had a toxic effect on everyday life in communities across the country and around the state. Ethnic minorities have been mocked, bullied and killed. Graves of Jewish Americans have been desecrated. The time to act to protect Coloradans is now, he argued.
A long list of witnesses testified in favor of the bill.
Pantea Beigi, an Iranian-American human rights advocate, recalled the round up of Muslim men in the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Some 750 men with expired or otherwise faulty visas were detained in small cells and many allegedly abused for up to three to eight months. Some were beaten and taunted as terrorists. Authorities never found evidence linking any of the men to the attacks or to terrorism. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case based on the detentions that aims to hold top officials in the Bush administration, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, responsible for writing the policies that fueled the abuse.
“Iran was included in President Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil,’” said Beigi. “The rationale was based in fear mongering. We’re experiencing that again now.”
Beigi said the fear and anger seeps down into the culture, into neighborhoods and schools.
“When you have that kind of fear mongering coming down from the top, I worry about children taking it up. I’m afraid they’ll adopt an armed mindset,” she said.
Michael Bellmont, a musician from Longmont, wrote a song in support of the bill. He brought his guitar to the hearing and played and sang for the committee. “I stand tall because this country shelters me/I give my all for this bastion of the free… /Our greatness comes from great diversity.”
In a sign of what might be in store for the bill when it reaches the Republican-controlled Senate, all four Republicans on the committee voted in opposition. At least two of them, Reps. Cole Wist from Centennial and Yeulin Willett from Grand Junction, said they were sympathetic to the arguments in support of the bill but thought the bill itself was too braod. They said they believed border security and immigration policy were lawfully left to the federal government and that, by including non-citizens among the residents to be protected, the bill might be unconstitutional.
“I’m glad we’re linking arms on states’ rights,” Wist told Salazar. “I appreciate the discussion. I think it’s an important discussion to have.”