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Douglas County sues Colorado over restrictions on immigration enforcement, as others weigh joining the suit

Douglas County filed suit Monday against the state of Colorado, alleging that two laws prohibiting local governments from cooperating with the federal government on immigration enforcement violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit, which other conservative counties are considering joining, takes aim at laws passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jared Polis in recent years. The suit names Polis as a defendant and claims that state laws from 2019 and 2023 trample on local governments’ ability to cooperate or contract “with one another or with the government of the United States,” as guaranteed by the Colorado Constitution’s Article 14.

“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.

The complaint, filed in Denver District Court, also alleges that the legislation violates the “distribution of powers” provision in the state constitution. One of the laws prohibits probation officers from sharing personal information about an individual with federal immigration authorities — an unlawful intrusion, the lawsuit states, by the legislature into judicial branch matters.

It’s the latest move by the affluent metro Denver county that’s been on the vanguard of pushing back on Colorado’s immigrant-friendly approach to managing the ongoing border crisis. Nearby, Denver has seen nearly 41,000 migrants — many of them from Venezuela — arrive since late 2022.

Earlier this month, the Douglas County commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting commercial vehicles from dropping off people in the county unannounced — a reaction to the busloads of migrants that have rolled into Denver from U.S. cities near the southern border for more than a year.

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

Denver has spent nearly $70 million supporting the new arrivals, prompting officials to reduce hours at recreation centers and Department of Motor Vehicles offices for several months this year as a budget-saving measure. Those reductions are expected to be reversed later this spring and summer, Mayor Mike Johnston announced last week, after the city adjusted budget forecasts for what it will cost to support migrants.

Douglas County’s lawsuit specifically targets House Bill 19-1124, which prohibited police and sheriff deputies from holding undocumented immigrants solely in response to detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It also takes aim at House Bill 23-1100, which further prevents state and local governments from entering or renewing contracts with federal immigration authorities to detain people suspected of civil immigration violations.

Raquel Lane-Arellano, communications manager for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, told The Post last month that immigrant advocates are “alarmed and concerned” by how some communities, like Douglas County, are approaching the migrant challenge.

“When law enforcement works with ICE, it creates a lot of fear in our immigrant communities,” she said. “It sends a chilling message to all immigrants in our community.”

The county announced its intention to sue the state in March. Officials planned hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday in Castle Rock to formally announce the lawsuit.

Garcia, the county attorney, said eight Colorado counties have reached out to Douglas County to express interest in how the county is going about challenging state law on immigration policy. Last week, The Gazette reported that the Board of El Paso County Commissioners unanimously voted to join Douglas County in its lawsuit, asserting that they aimed to keep the community safe, “especially from undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes.”

As Douglas County’s first Latino commissioner, Laydon said he recognizes “the plight of people seeking asylum.” But the county’s responsibility, he said, 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,” he said.

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