Immigration reporting law has high cost for the state

The Colorado Statesman

Six years after state lawmakers backed a measure that instituted a strict immigration-reporting law in Colorado, critics say enforcement by local communities has cost $13 million statewide.

Senate Bill 90, passed in 2006, requires a police officer who has probable cause to believe that an arrestee is an undocumented immigrant to report the incident to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office (ICE).

The law is considered by opponents to be the precursor to Arizona’s controversial and notorious Senate Bill 1070, which requires similar reporting. Critics call such measures “show me your papers” laws.

The study by the Colorado Fiscal Institute states that Colorado spends upwards of $13 million per year to enforce federal immigration laws, a sum that equals placing an additional 217 police officer’s or sheriff’s deputies on the street.

To compile the report, researchers gathered data and statistics from Denver, the largest metropolitan area in the state. The study found that over two years, the cost of immigration enforcement was between $1.8 million and $3 million, or nearly $1 million to $1.5 million each year.

Researchers then applied a similar pattern to other jurisdictions, noting that an ICE hold is placed 41 percent of the time and that those detained spend an additional 22 days in jail, at an average daily cost of $55.

Extrapolating that information, the report finds that the state is spending $13 million per year detaining and housing suspected undocumented immigrants.

Sixty-three percent of those placed under an immigration detainer were charged with misdemeanor and lower level offenses, according to the study. Only 37 percent were charged with a felony.

“What this study I think really found is that there are some real numbers now to the story of people being held longer — being in the system in the first place and being held longer than they would otherwise — all at an increase cost to local communities and local taxpayers,” said Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute and an author of the study, during a conference call Wednesday unveiling the report.

The “Misplaced Priorities” project is being touted by the American Friends Service Committee, an organization dedicated to advancing peace and justice, as well as by the National Immigration Law Center, the Colorado Progressive Coalition and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC). Together they make up the Campaign to Unite Colorado.

The campaign also discussed evidence from a hotline established on Sept. 15. The purpose of the hotline has been to document abuses stemming from SB 90.

“We’re looking to find systematic patterns of abuse that are occurring in Colorado to prove the fact that ‘show me your papers’ laws have opened the door to civil rights abuses in our state…” said Brendan Greene, membership and campaigns coordinator for CIRC.

The hotline has received hundreds of calls and has documented more than 60 complaints, according to Greene. Seventy-five percent of the complaints have been cases of people pulled over for minor traffic infractions; 20 percent of callers have had issues with posting bond; and 56 percent of respondents have had holds placed on them, despite being low-level offenders.

Luis Antonio Medrano, a 19-year-old documented immigrant, told his har-rowing tale of having been detained for more than 19 hours following a speed-ing ticket. He came to America from Culiacan Sinaloa, Mexico when he was 3 years old. He has never left the country.

Medrano is excited that in the spring he will be attending Colorado Mesa University, but he lamented, “Suddenly, everything got put on hold.”

On Nov. 6, 2012, he was driving in Clifton, Colo. when he was pulled over for speeding. He handed the police officer his passport and registration. The officer became suspicious and began asking questions about his passport — where he got it and how much he paid for it, according to Medrano.

He says he was nervous, but remained polite and answered the officer’s questions. But in the end, the officer handcuffed Medrano, searched him and his vehicle, and then took him to the Mesa County Jail. After speaking with ICE 19 hours later, Medrano was released.

“This situation changed me in a lot of ways…” said the aspiring student. “I’m not a criminal; I’ve never done anything wrong. But this situation made me feel like a criminal for being who I am.”

Theresa Trujillo, vice president of the CIRC board, said the campaign would explore options within the legislature to try and address some of the concerns surrounding SB 90. But she said the campaign has not yet found a sponsor.

“We’re open to any and every possibility,” Trujillo said.

“We know that there are elected officials on both sides of the aisle that know there needs to be the kind of trust built between law enforcement and communities in order to ensure that our neighborhoods are safe. So, I think we’re open to every possibility and really look forward to working with legislators and law enforcement and the community, and businesses and local governments, to find a way through this.”

Trujillo does not expect there to be a big push this year at the legislature for immigration bills — aside from Colorado ASSET, which proposes offering reduced tuition rates to undocumented students. With Democrats controlling both chambers this coming session, it is unlikely that Republicans will attempt measures that crack down on illegal immigration, and Democrats appear focused on jobs and the economy.

But Trujillo believes the future of immigration reform looks bright, especially after the Latino vote helped to change the outcome of the recent election.

“I do think that the large turnout of Latino voters certainly put immigration work and figuring out a roadmap for citizenship sort of further up on the priorities list,” she said. “But jobs and the economy are really driving the agenda.”

SB 90 sponsor says law not going far enough

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, who co-sponsored SB 90 when he was in the House with then-Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, agrees that there will not be a flurry of immigration crackdown bills next year.

“I don’t know if you heard, but Republicans did not take control of the House and Senate,” he joked, pointing out that such immigration efforts would be a “moot point.”

But Harvey defended his SB 90, adding that the measure does not go far enough in the sense that many local law enforcement agencies are ignoring the law. He pointed to Denver, which he considers to be a so-called “sanctuary city.”

“Immigrants are breaking the law all over the state and the police are turning their head and saying there’s nothing we can do about it,” suggested Harvey. “ICE isn’t going to pick these people up, and they just let the illegal immigrant go their merry way, when if it was a true citizen of the United States breaking many of these laws, they’d be put in jail.

“I’m more worried about the illegal immigrant that’s breaking the law, and the police are just turning their head because the federal government’s not doing their job,” he continued.

When told of Medrano’s story, Harvey did acknowledge that there could be unintended consequences of SB 90, which he said concerns him. But Harvey does not believe that the problem is widespread.

“If you have a legal passport and you provide that paperwork, then you have a legitimate issue and complaint,” he said. “But that is the exception, not the norm.”

In the meantime, Harvey hopes that the immigration issue deescalates politically, noting that for many, the issue is really about safety and fiscal responsibility. He points out that when SB 90 passed in 2006, Democrats controlled the legislature.

“It was not a very controversial bill,” Harvey said of his legislation. “As soon as [President Barack] Obama gets elected, he wants to make immigration a political issue and a racial issue, rather than a taxpayer issue. Then it becomes the worst kind of legislation known to mankind.

“It’s unfortunate that President Obama has chosen to make immigration reform, and protecting our borders, and protecting taxpayers such a divisive issue,” he concluded.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com