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Douglas County Sues Colorado, Gov. Polis Over New Immigration Enforcement Policies

— April 19, 2024

Several Douglas County officials have since expressed support for the lawsuit, saying that local government has a right–and a duty–to prioritize the interest of citizens over those of undocumented immigrants.

A Colorado county has filed a lawsuit against two recently-passed laws prohibiting local governments from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

According to The Denver Post, the complaint—filed on behalf of Douglas County on Monday—claims that Colorado legislators violated provisions of the state constitution that permit cities, counties, and other local government bodies to contract “with another [or] with the government of the United States.”

“This is a proactive step in order to restore a method of communication and cooperation between the different levels of government here in the county, but [also], here in the state, to address those concerns that are prevalent in our community,” said Douglas County Board of County Commissioners Chairman George Teal.

The lawsuit takes aim at two specific bills: Colorado House Bill 19-1124—which prohibits police and sheriff deputies from holding immigrants solely to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers—and House Bill 23-1100, an act forbidding local governments from either entering or renewing certain contracts with federal immigration authorities.

“The state has prohibited local governments from cooperating with the federal government and we would like the ability to cooperate back again,” County Attorney Jeff Garcia told The Denver Post.

Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

The complaint, which names Gov. Jared Polis as a co-defendant, also suggests that Colorado’s immigration laws abrogate constitutional stipulations on the “distribution of powers.” One of these stipulations, for instance, broadly prohibits probation officers from sharing offenders’ information with federal immigration authorities. Douglas County attorneys claim that such restrictions let state-level legislators exert a disproportionate and unlawful degree of influence over the Colorado judiciary.

Douglas County Undersheriff Dave Walcher indicated that, under current Colorado law, departments like his are no longer allowed to make independent decisions in their own interest.

“The mission of all of us is to keep this county safe, and that is my job—to keep Douglas County residents safe,” Walcher said, stressing that local law enforcement issues should be made at the local level. “And what we’ve seen over the last several years, dating back to 2019, is one of the bills that was discussed, is the fact that it limits our ability to work with ICE.”

Other county officials have raised similar concerns, claiming that Colorado’s stringent new laws could make it much more difficult for their law enforcement agencies to prioritize the interests of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and other persons authorized to be within the United States.

“In Douglas County, we lead with compassion, but we have to prioritize those who came here legally,” said Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon. “We are very protective of our citizens and our quality of life.”

Laydon, who the county’s first-ever Latino commissioner, said that he recognizes and sympathizes with “the plight of people seeking asylum.” However, Laydon maintains that his duty—and that of the county government—is “to our citizens who are already here legally.”

“If we bankrupt our state on the backs of those who are here legally, we create a situation that is untenable for everyone, including immigrants,” Laydon said


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