Aurora City Council narrowly opposed two measures on Monday night, protecting undocumented residents in the form of a legal protection fund for deported immigrants and creating “safe spaces” in the city where arrest by federal authorities would largely be ruled out , would have granted limits.
The 6-5 vote on both measures came after more than two hours of debate and fierce public comment, with dozens of residents calling on both sides of the issue. Mayor Mike Coffman was the bottom line no on any record.
Before the vote, things got emotional among councilors, and councilor Juan Marcano recounted how people raised ethnic slurs against him as a child growing up in Texas.
“We have to be better as a country,” he said, pleading with his colleagues to adopt the measures.
Councilor Allison Hiltz encouraged her colleagues to vote yes too, saying Aurora’s large and dynamic immigrant community deserves to have places in the city to go without fear of facing immigration officials.
“I don’t understand why it is so difficult to provide a basic piece of dignity because we are still complying with federal law,” she said.
The dual measures were suggested by Aurora Councilwomen Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs.
In a pre-meeting interview with the Denver Post, they said they recognized that some critics would describe the passing of the ordinances as tantamount to turning Aurora into a “sanctuary city” – a term attributed to cities that add immigrants Refusal to work with federal immigration and customs officials provides protection.
But Murillo, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who was elected to the council in 2017, said the deportation resulted in too many families being separated. She said the proposed regulations would provide some security to families who may work and pay taxes but are not legally allowed to live here.
Coombs called the proposed laws a “declaration of value” for a demographically diverse city where 20% of residents were foreign born.
“If you know you won’t be deported, this will be a more welcoming city,” she said.
The Legal Protection Fund would have helped cover the cost of legal representation for “non-citizens in immigration proceedings” living in Aurora. Coombs and Murillo said they’d love to see Aurora populate the fund with $ 50,000, and then triple that amount with money from private foundations and proceeds from grants.
The fund would have been administered by the Aurora Bureau for International Affairs and Immigration, which was founded five years ago. The head of that office, Ricardo Gambetta, declined to comment on the legislation ahead of Monday’s vote.
Coombs cited a study by The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University that found only 4,967 immigrants had legal representation in Colorado by the end of 2020. There are nearly 40,000 people in custody in the state, according to TRAC.
“It lets people know that if you get deported we won’t let you down,” Coombs said of the fund.
Aurora is home to the 1,532-bed ICE detention center, which has been the focus of rancor and protests against immigration and enforcement policies in Colorado.
The second move would have essentially codified the policies Aurora already has when it comes to how the city works with federal immigration officials. It prohibited city officials, including the police, from using city funds or resources to “help enforce federal immigration laws.”
This includes “requesting information about a person’s national origin, immigration status or citizenship status,” the proposal says. Aurora police officers could respond to calls for help from federal immigration authorities, as long as that role is limited to keeping the peace or protecting public safety.
But there was also a new feature in the measure “safe rooms” – a term for city property where Aurora employees or contractors would turn away ICE authorities if no federal order or subpoena is presented.
“This would allow people to pay their water bills without fear of deportation,” Murillo said.
When asked about the Aurora proposals, an ICE spokeswoman said the agency was “not commenting on the proposed laws.”