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Douglas County plans measure to prevent buses from dropping off migrants and challenge of state laws

Douglas County plans to launch a legal challenge of recent state laws that bar local law enforcement in Colorado from closely cooperating with federal immigration officials on the detention and incarceration of immigrants.

Leaders of the conservative south metro county have characterized the legal challenge and a proposed ordinance aimed at preventing the busing of migrants to its communities as their response to the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. One commissioner stated that “our first responsibility is to our citizens who are already here legally.”

Douglas County’s measures, which the commissioners voted on Tuesday, come as nearly 40,000 migrants have arrived in Denver over the last 15 months. The arrivals have strained city resources and prompted other Front Range communities — including Aurora and El Paso County — to warn the city not to send migrants their way.

In Lakewood, the prospect of migrants flooding the suburb from Denver packed a room last month with hundreds of residents who insisted their city wasn’t equipped to handle such an influx. Denver has not attempted to move migrants to Lakewood.

“We have a lot of concerned residents here on this,” Douglas County Commissioner George Teal said Thursday. “It has reached a boiling point.”

On Tuesday, the commissioners advanced an ordinance that would prohibit 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 year.

A bus driver in violation of the order could be cited and the bus seized, according to the ordinance. That measure still needs a second vote on March 26 to become law.

North of metro Denver, a group of 50 or so residents gathered Wednesday evening with Weld County elected officials, including the sheriff, at a town hall to discuss whether the county should declare itself a non-sanctuary county, as Douglas and El Paso counties have done.

An effort by Commissioner Lori Saine to introduce just such a resolution was narrowly voted down by her fellow commissioners earlier this month, according to The Greeley Tribune.

“We want to make sure we are not giving taxpayer dollars to funding illegals,” said Natalee Tennant, a Weld County resident who recently founded the group Never Surrender National and organized Wednesday’s town hall. “That money needs to come back to legal residents — our homeless, our veterans.”

Raquel Lane-Arellano, communications manager for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said immigrant advocates were “alarmed and concerned” by what is happening in some Colorado communities when it comes to managing the migrant flow.

“When law enforcement works with (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), it creates a lot of fear in our immigrant communities,” she said. “It sends a chilling message to all immigrants in our community.”

That’s why state lawmakers passed a law limiting that cooperation five years ago, Lane-Arellano said. The law prohibits police and sheriff deputies from holding undocumented immigrants solely in response to detainer requests from ICE. A bill passed last year further prevents state and local governments from entering or renewing any contracts with federal immigration authorities to hold people suspected of civil immigration violations.

“It is a basic value of our country to provide refuge to those fleeing hardship,” she said. “Immigration is so heightened in a political moment like this.”

As migrant crossings have hit record levels under the Biden administration — fueled by federal laws that allow many asylum seekers to stay in the United States while they await a court hearing — Douglas County wouldn’t be the first community to attempt to deter bus drivers from dropping off large numbers of immigrants.

At the end of last year, Grundy County outside Chicago installed two digital billboards on Interstate 55 warning bus drivers not to off-load migrants in the county.

Closer to Denver, the Aurora City Council passed a resolution last month stating that Colorado’s third most populous city, where 1 in 5 residents is foreign born, had no plans to take in or provide services for migrants brought to the city from other municipalities.

Teal said the state laws that Douglas County plans to challenge mark an overreach by state government and trample on Douglas County’s duty to “provide for the health, welfare and safety” of its citizens.

The 2019 law, in particular, was passed by a Democrat-controlled legislature intent on snubbing then-President Donald Trump’s hardline federal immigration policies, he said.

“The assertion we’re making is that these laws, passed as a stunt by the state legislature, prohibit local law enforcement from doing their job,” Teal said.

Douglas County intends to file its lawsuit against the state in the next few weeks.

Lane-Arellano, with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said the problem would be less severe if other communities in the state offered to lend Denver a hand.

“If the burden was more equally distributed, more communities could provide support that feels more sustainable,” she said.

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