Aurora lawmakers pass measure to reject ‘sanctuary city’ label despite community pleas

"I truly believe that this resolution that we're trying to pass hampers all the efforts that we are trying to make; all the progress that we have made to make Aurora a welcoming city," said Jeanette Rodriguez, who serves as co-chairwoman of the city's Immigrant and Refugee Commission.

AURORA | The City of Aurora is neither a “sanctuary city” nor a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” members of the Aurora City Council narrowly decided Monday night.

The unofficial terms, loosely used to refer to municipalities that operate under pro-immigrant policies or vow to harbor illegal aliens without reporting them to federal authorities, have plagued Aurora and many of its conservative officials for years.

By a vote of 6-4, city council members May 15 passed a resolution declaring Aurora is not a so-called sanctuary city, and officials will continue to act in the best interest of Aurora’s many foreign-born residents by continuing to cooperate with federal immigration laws.

Council members Marsha Berzins, Barb Cleland, Bob LeGare and Charlie Richardson voted against the measure.

Primarily symbolic, the resolution states that the city is in compliance with portion 1373 in title 8 of the U.S. Code, which states that a local government can’t craft rules that would bar officials from communicating with a federal entity.

Recent communications issued by the Department of Justice and the White House have indicated that a violation of U.S.C. 1373 is what the new administration is using to gauge a municipality’s status as a sanctuary city. While cities such as San Francisco and New York City have created policies that actively thwart federal efforts to detain and deport illegal immigrants, many other cities accused of being “sanctuaries” actually follow state and federal laws. 

Echoing statements made by their colleagues in many so-called sanctuary cities, officials in Aurora have repeatedly stressed that local cops do not act as immigration officers. They say the distinction is important to ensure the safety of legal and illegal residents in a community.

Several council members made pains to underscore the notion that the city complies with all federal immigration laws, particularly those outlined in U.S.C. 1373.

“It is not an anti-immigrant policy whatsoever,” Councilwoman Francoise Bergan said. “There’s a lot of misrepresentation being characterized.

”The resolution states our compliance with 1373, which is under section 8 of the United States Constitution (Code). That compliance involves sharing of data only of those who have been incarcerated in state prisons and local detention centers, regardless of immigration status. Anyone who commits a crime and has been arrested will have their fingerprints reported through the sharing of data collection. This is about identifying criminals who pose a threat to public safety.”

Some two dozen people, including those from advocacy groups and many more without any affiliation to a particular organization, spoke against the resolution Monday.

”I truly believe that this resolution that we’re trying to pass hampers all the efforts that we are trying to make, all the progress that we have made to make Aurora a welcoming city,” said Jeanette Rodriguez, who serves as co-chairwoman of the city’s Immigrant and Refugee Commission.

At least one man, Duane Senn, who serves as the head of a local neighborhood association, spoke in favor of the measure.

But many others railed against the resolution. The Colorado People’s Alliance, a local social justice group, has repeatedly criticized the city’s stance on its lingering sanctuary city label in the months leading up to last night’s vote.

“It is clear to me that the Aurora City Council cares more about pleasing the Trump Administration and the unconstitutional threats of the Trump Administration against sanctuary cities than about standing up for my family, their constituents, and all the other immigrants and refugees who live here,” Gerardo Noriega, a COPA member and Aurora resident, said in a statement.

“We want our city leaders to do more to keep us safe and make us feel welcomed in this city,” he added. “I’ve lived in (Aurora) for 16 years. If they won’t listen to their people now, they will answer to our votes later.”

The latest sanctuary city saga in Aurora began this winter, when council members discussed the topic after seeing a segment of the defunct Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” on which Aurora, Boulder and Denver were implied to be sanctuary municipalities.

Shortly after that initial conversation, officials requested and received a briefing March 27 from Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz, Court Administrator Zelda DeBoyes, City Attorney Mike Hyman and others, reiterating that local law enforcement officers have for years followed all federal protocols when dealing with illegal immigrants who have committed a crime. That process typically begins by transferring fingerprints from people who are detained at the city’s 72-hour detention facility to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which then hands those prints to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to local law enforcement officials. After that transfer occurs, a decision as to whether to pick up an undocumented immigrant from the city’s 72-hour facility is then left to ICE agents.

If ICE determines someone is a “priority for removal,” the local agency sends the city’s jail a request for a courtesy hold, according to DeBoyes. The local detention center will not honor a courtesy hold for more than four hours.

But it was at that late March meeting that Councilwoman Angela Lawson originally called for a resolution spurning Aurora’s sanctuary city tag. She introduced a related measure at a committee meeting late last month and fast-tracked the item directly to the council floor.

Lawson met with the city’s attorney as well as local members of Mi Familia Vota, a national Latino advocacy group, while crafting the final version of the resolution council members voted on, according to city documents. Although she originally hinted she didn’t believe the measure would receive enough votes to pass, Lawson staunchly defended the measure at the regular council meeting Monday.

“I realize that this resolution is controversial, but I only have the public safety of all the residents in mind and want to reiterate our compliance with 1373, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution (Code),” she said. “This resolution simply reinforces what we have publicly said, that we comply by sharing data with federal agencies when someone has been arrested and booked into our detention center.”

Councilman Brad Pierce, who voted in favor of the measure, said he’s optimistic the new resolution will discourage people from including Aurora on lists that outline supposed sanctuary cities.

“We get put on these lists that we are a sanctuary city and, yes, it is correct there’s no definition of ‘sanctuary city,’ but if we make a statement like this and pass a resolution that says we are not a sanctuary city, I’m hoping that will send a message to whoever keeps putting us on a list that says we are,” he said. “Because it’s just not fair that they keep lumping us in with some of the other cities, big cities, in this country that we are nowhere near … in terms of their policy on being a sanctuary city.”

The city’s anti-sanctuary city measure juxtaposes another resolution currently being considered by the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education. The APS board directors are expected to discuss their own resolution, which would enact several immigrant-friendly policies in the district, at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Councilwoman Renie Peterson voted against the resolution. She voted for the measure. Councilman Bob LeGare cast the fourth dissenting vote.