Governor Jared Polis signed a bill ending an Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) between Colorado sheriff’s departments and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on June 6, 2023.
The bill, HB23-1100, is called the Restrict Government Involvement In Immigration Detention Act. It was sponsored by four Front Range lawmakers, Rep. Naquetta Ricks (D-Aurora), Rep. Lorena Garcia (D-Westminster), Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D-Longmont), and Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver).
Along with terminating IGSA contracts that permit local sheriff’s offices to hold those suspected of civil immigration violations, the bill also forbids state and local governments from selling government-owned land to build privately-owned immigration detention facilities.
CPR News reported that “the new law doesn’t impact the immigrant detention center in Aurora, which is owned and operated by GEO Group, a private company. GEO contracts directly with the federal government. Its facility is the largest of its kind in Colorado.”
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse [TRAC], a data distribution organization at Syracuse University, found that as of July 2019, there were 1,219 detentions in Colorado.
The vast majority of those detainees (1,175) are being held at the GEO facility in Arapahoe County, with Teller County coming in second at 43 detentions.
ICE defines an IGSA as a “cooperative agreement between ICE and any state, territory or political subdivision for the construction, renovation or acquisition of equipment … to establish acceptable conditions required of confinement and detention services.”
New IGSA contracts will be forbidden from being drawn, and existing agreements between Moffat and Teller County will be terminated starting Jan. 1, 2024.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), an immigrant’s rights organization, praised Gov. Polis’ actions in a press release on June 7, 2023.
“Under the new legislation, state and local law enforcement agencies will no longer participate in federal immigration enforcement activities that have historically caused fear and anxiety within immigrant communities,” CIRC wrote. “By severing the ties between sheriffs and ICE, Colorado is affirming its commitment to upholding the principles of fairness, justice, and inclusivity.”
Nayda Benitez, the South Regional Organizer and Campaign Manager at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, remembers how terror and anxiety gripped her and her family when they entered a Colorado district whose sheriff’s department had an agreement with ICE.
“As someone who grew up in Colorado Springs, I vividly remember the fear my family and I felt while driving through Teller county since we lived nearby, knowing that local sheriffs were collaborating with ICE. It created an atmosphere of constant paranoia and heightened tension within our immigrant community,” Benitez wrote in the press release.
As reported by The Denver Post, Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell and Teller County commissioners wrote to Gov. Jared Polis on April 24, requesting he reject the bill.
The letter described Teller County’s program as “exemplary,” and that “Teller County does not hunt down anyone we only receive detainees already in the system …”
In a signing statement, Polis explained the bill in greater detail, emphasized the legitimacy of ICE, and promised that Colorado would not become a sanctuary state.
A sanctuary policy is an idea that the federal government cannot force systems of law to participate in immigration enforcement.
“I share the sponsors’ goal to treat immigrants and individuals caught in detention proceedings with respect and dignity,” Polis wrote the statement. “Unfortunately, this bill will not and cannot address any of the causes of our broken immigration system, but instead focuses on the consequences of a system that tears families apart and prevents economic growth.”