El Paso and Douglas County Commissioners, along with their respective sheriffs, Joseph Roybal and Darren Weekly, joined with an anti-immigration hate group last month to push for the repeal of Colorado laws that protect immigrants from unjustified harm from the federal government and state and local government contractors.

The Commissioners and the sheriffs filed a lawsuit in mid-April against the State of Colorado and Gov. Jared Polis, claiming that two Colorado immigration laws violate the state constitution and overstep federal immigration policy.


The move to ask a court to declare the laws unconstitutional comes after a group of conservative sheriffs, including Roybal and Weekly, allied with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-immigration “hate group” with an “ugly history,” to pass legislation that would have repealed the laws at issue.

The coalition believes the two laws, HB19-1124 and HB23-1100, create “dangerous conditions for the state and migrants.” The first prohibits local law enforcement from holding an individual beyond their release date based on an immigration detainer request and from sharing judicial information about an individual with federal immigration officials. The second prevents state and local governments from contracting with private firms for immigration detention services.

The attempt to repeal the pro-immigrant laws failed to pass the House State, Civic, Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee, prompting Roybal to express his disappointment in the bill’s lack of support and declare in a press release that he would “not be a spectator and allow the State of Colorado to keep me from upholding my duties as Sheriff.” 

Weekly agreed. “The most critical role of government is to protect its citizens,” he said in a statement on the Douglas County website. “I believe this action is absolutely necessary to allow law enforcement to work with our federal partners to help keep all of Colorado safe.”

The Trump administration began attacking sanctuary policies in 2016 and spreading rhetoric that illegal immigrants drive up crime, take Americans’ jobs, are a burden to the economy, and create a public health risk.  

Migrant camp in Denver

Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas continued this line of attack on the county’s website. “Unfortunately, since the federal government has not taken action at the border, this legal action is now necessary for the preservation of public welfare, health and safety of our local community,” said Thomas.

Yet, studies have shown these fears aren’t substantiated with data. One 2020 study found that sanctuary policies don’t affect “deportations of people with violent convictions” and have no effect on crime rates in the cities, counties, and states where they are implemented.

A 2023 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan organization focused on health policy, states, “Recent research further finds that, because immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, have lower health care use despite contributing billions of dollars in insurance premiums and taxes, they help subsidize the U.S. health care system and offset the costs of care incurred by U.S.-born citizens.”

Sheriff’s role in immigration

The Colorado constitution gives Colorado sheriffs elected to four-year terms various responsibilities, including overseeing local jails, transporting prisoners and pretrial detainees, and investigating crimes. These duties put them in contact with immigration enforcement officers and often make sheriff’s departments the “gateway to deportation,” according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC).

Local governments aren’t required to help with immigration enforcement, and proponents of what is often referred to as sanctuary statutes argue that involving local resources to do so promotes racially discriminatory practices and undermines public trust.

Also, counter to what Roybal, Weekly, and the county commissioners would have citizens believe, the ILRC states that these laws don’t prevent immigrants from being deported or prosecuted for crimes. “State and local police still enforce state and local criminal laws against immigrants who are accused of committing a crime in sanctuary jurisdictions. Importantly, the Supreme Court has made clear that “as a general rule, it is not a crime for a[n undocumented immigrant] to remain present in the United States.”

Sheriff’s deputies and local police officers also send the federal government the fingerprints of anyone booked into jail or prison, who can then use that information to identify and locate individuals they intend to deport.

Are Colorado’s immigration laws unconstitutional?

The lawsuit makes four claims against HB19-1124 and HB23-1100. The last argument is that prohibiting local law enforcement from honoring an immigration detainer request violates federal immigration law.

Yet, the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that the Federal government “may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.” 

The ILRC states, “The Supreme Court has clarified that immigration enforcement is the sole duty of the federal government, and state and local police may only carry out immigration enforcement if specifically authorized to do so by the federal government.

“In fact, jurisdictions that do honor detainers can be found liable for unlawfully holding an individual on a detainer without a judicial warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment and may be required to compensate individuals for damages.”

More recently, according to Vox reporting, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have asked it to strike down California’s Values Act. This act prevents state and local law enforcement from sharing immigrants’ personal information with immigration authorities and transferring them to immigration custody. As a result, the law stands.

Refusal to carry out sanctuary laws

It’s one thing to sign a bill into law and another to enforce it. A growing number of Colorado conservative sheriffs have joined a nationwide trend of passing resolutions opposing laws they don’t like, asserting that their elected county sheriffs need not enforce measures they view as unconstitutional.

The assertion evokes the Constitutional Sheriff’s movement, which has roots in white supremacy and is based on the idea that the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority in the country.  According to the ACLU, “This idea was pioneered by Christian Identity minister William Potter Gale in the 1970s as ‘Posse Comitatus,’ which is Latin for ‘the power of the county.’”

In response to a 2019 red flag law that allows a judge to temporarily confiscate a person’s guns if they’re determined via a judicial process to be a risk to themselves or others, 64 Colorado counties, including El Paso and Douglas Counties, passed resolutions declaring themselves to be Second Amendment (2A) sanctuaries. This assertion means they either won’t enforce the law or will only enforce it based on a risk analysis.

RELATED: ‘Gun Sanctuary’ Resolutions Being Adopted by Some CO Counties Have White Supremacist Roots

As migrants have flooded into Denver on buses sent to the state by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, several of the same counties have passed resolutions declaring they aren’t a sanctuary jurisdiction. Douglas County’s 2023 resolution states it will support the sheriff’s office’s ability to “uphold federal immigration law.” 

More recently, the county adopted an emergency ordinance stating that a “driver of a commercial vehicle may not stop and unload passengers in unincorporated Douglas County other than at planned, scheduled and documented destinations.”

El Paso county officials have also stated the county will not be designated as a sanctuary county.

On the other hand, a handful of conservative counties in Colorado, including Weld County, have refused to pass declarations that they aren’t a sanctuary jurisdiction, arguing that the resolutions aren’t substantive.