Immigration law could be sidelined

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A Thornton Democrat is seeking to repeal a state law that requires police to report those they suspect of being in the country illegally to immigration authorities.

And it’s an effort that has support from Republicans, as well as from members of the law enforcement community.

Rep. Joe Salazar said his House Bill 1258 would prevent local officers “from engaging in federal immigration enforcement,” as well as would help re-establish trust between police and immigrants.

“It brings back dignity between law enforcement and the communities,” Salazar said before the House State, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on March 18.

Salazar’s bill would repeal a law that was put in place in 2006, which critics say creates paperwork headaches and is redundant and divisive.

They point to a federal program that local law enforcement already adheres to called Secure Communities, which requires that police use fingerprints from arrestees to identify illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds.

Critics say the Colorado law puts law enforcement in the awkward position of having to determine whether someone is here illegally on initial contact.

Members of law enforcement say jails already are full, and keeping someone locked up for a traffic violation, just because they’re suspected of being the country illegally, is not the best of use of their resources.

“My jails are overfull,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. “I don’t have extra resources to hold people for civil violations in my jail.”

Norma Morones testified that she was pulled over for a minor traffic offense in 2011, and ended up being taken to jail and held there until immigration authorities could sort out her residency status.

Morones said the incident resulted in “stress and fear and depression,” and left her hesitant to reach out to law enforcement again, even in cases where she wanted to report serious crimes.

“Because of this incident, I lost trust in the police,” Morones said, through a translator.

The bill passed the committee on a 9-2 vote, with two Republicans — Reps. Tim Dore of Elizabeth and Ray Scott of Grand Junction — casting a yes vote.

It’s possible that even more GOP lawmakers could end up voting for the bill, as it goes through the legislative process.

“I came into this a very strong no,” said Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita. “I’m now a very soft no.”

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