El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez and Colorado Springs City Councilor Dave Donelson appeared Monday on the Richard Randall Show (KVOR-AM) to discuss their commitment to keeping immigrants out of southern Colorado.

“This popped up last year when we started seeing Denver being concerned about getting a couple of hundred migrants moved up from the border,” said Gonzalez. “At that time, we talked to staff, we went and we asked our Office of Emergency Management, to make sure if we get any requests, we were going to push back against that because, again, certain sanctuary cities in Colorado have said they’re open to this. We have not said that. We’ve been the opposite. Let’s follow the rule of law.”

Donelson, who lost his statehouse bid to state Rep. Stephanie Vigil (D-Colorado Springs) last year, also rejected the “sanctuary city” label for Colorado Springs. “We have a certain culture here,” he said. “County commissioners, the City Council, and our mayor agree on that. The citizens didn’t vote us in to become a sanctuary city. None of us want that.”

Gonzalez and Donelson’s comments come as the Biden administration ends Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that restricted the ability of migrants to seek asylum in the US. “We’re going to look into it and make sure that we’re not overwhelmed and that we’re not open to this,” said Gonzalez. “This is a federal issue. The Biden administration has been unwilling to handle this in a way that’s been effective and it’s making things worse, so we’re not going to voluntarily support his bad decisions. We’ll push back and we’ll see what we can do.”

Advocates for immigrants in Colorado Springs say concerns about immigration are often unfounded and politically motivated. “As the weather warms and as Title 42 comes to an end, we are seeing a spike in immigrants coming into the U.S. and to Colorado,” says Nayda Benitez, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition’s regional organizer for Southern Colorado. “I do want to push back on this narrative that there’s some sort of major crisis, and that this major crisis calls for even more draconian solutions. Flows of migration have always existed and are a natural part of our society. … This notion that immigration is out of control — I would want people to pay attention to that because these are narratives that are pushed, time and time again.”

Gonzalez also claimed that migrants are often associated with drug cartels and involved in drug and human trafficking. “The issue that really stands out to me is the public safety [issue], long-term, with some of the drug traffickers utilizing [migrants],” he said. “Some are criminals. Some are good people that are illegally in our country. But the criminal elements, traffickers in Mexico will absolutely use this to their benefit. And that’s what scares me. You said I was the go-to guy because I’m Hispanic. I’m the go-to guy on these issues because I was a counter drugs guy. I don’t think you knew this. I worked in Mexico, in the country going against cartels, and they utilize every existing legal avenue. If the migrants are being shipped to other states, guess what’s going to be following in those same routes? Drugs, human trafficking, fentanyl, meth, you know, everything that you can see, they’re going to utilize those existing methods of transit to do their illicit activities, and that really scares me. That’s why this surge is so dangerous to the country and to Colorado.”

In 2019, the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, noted that the majority of drug trafficking arrests — 77% — involve U.S. citizens. “According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, U.S. citizens had 77 percent of federal drug trafficking convictions in 2018,” notes the Cato Institute. “This percentage has grown from 69 percent in 2012. The share of drug traffickers who were illegal immigrants fell from 21 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2018.”

Image courtesy the Cato Institute.

Benitez notes that these issues are just another way of politicizing immigration. “It’s always really interesting to me that we use immigrants as scapegoats for issues that have been plaguing this country for so long,” she says. “It’s not necessarily drug traffickers coming in from other countries. At its roots, the drug crisis is tied to other unmet needs in the community. I think, time and time again, we hear this narrative that [with] a lot of the issues or social issues in the US, immigrants are used as a scapegoat.”

In January, more than 4,000 migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico arrived in Denver. Donelson affirmed that Colorado Springs will not offer support. “When Denver accepted a whole bunch of illegal aliens and it was running out of space and they were hinting that maybe Colorado Springs could take them,” he said, “there was kind of a unanimous front between the county commissioners, city council, our mayor, that no, if you want to virtue signal and say you’re a sanctuary city, then go ahead and take care of that. But Colorado Springs, the voters didn’t vote us in to do that. I don’t see any indication that anything is going to change from the last time this became a news item, a little crisis point.”

Benitez says these kinds of attitudes from local elected officials make life difficult for immigrants and migrants. “Based on my experience, Colorado Springs has a long way to go to be a welcoming city. I have encountered or witnessed xenophobia and racism. I remember, growing up, being told when I was out with my family, ‘Stop speaking in Spanish.’ It’s these experiences that inform who I am today. This is my home. I grew up here, but it hasn’t always felt like home and it hasn’t always felt welcoming.”