Costly penalties proposed for cities that don’t crack down on illegals with felonies
Communities that refuse to use a federal program to nab illegal immigrants convicted of felonies would lose money due them by the state under a bill approved Monday on a voice vote in the Colorado House.
The measure is designed to force communities to participate in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called Secure Communities. That program is designed to check whether someone booked into a local jail is in the country illegally and has a felony conviction elsewhere in the nation.
Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, said he introduced the measure because some Colorado communities have indicated they didn’t want to use the program. Though the federal government is allowing any community to refrain from using it with no penalty, Balmer thinks they should be penalized if they don’t.
“This has been a bipartisan effort out of Washington to identify dangerous convicted criminal aliens ... to either incarcerate here or deport,” Balmer said. “The federal government is saying clearly, ‘We’re not going to make cities participate if they don’t want to,’ and a number of cities have said, ‘Good.’ “
Colorado is one of several states participating in a pilot program testing the ICE database. Three jurisdictions — Denver, El Paso and Arapahoe counties — are testing the system.
Once the program is available to all, Balmer’s bill calls for those Colorado communities that refuse to use it to be ineligible to receive state grants, cigarette tax revenue, federal mineral lease money or severance tax disbursements.
Balmer admitted, however, that he’s using a tactic he dislikes when Congress employs it: threaten to withhold federal dollars to states that don’t pass laws it wants.
“This is different,” Balmer said. “This is a mandate I like.”
Because he had the backing of other Republicans in the GOP-controlled House, Democrats rallied unsuccessfully to defeat it.
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said the database requires law enforcement agencies to have special equipment to use it, particularly an expensive device that takes digital scans of fingerprints.
She said those communities that can’t afford such equipment would be penalized unfairly because of it.
“Because they do not have this equipment, which is costly, to do this electronic transmittal, their communities are going to suffer,” she said. “I don’t know why we would punish these communities, when they are simply unable to comply.”
While the Colorado Sheriff’s Association has endorsed the use of the database, it has not taken sides on Balmer’s bill.
A freshman lawmaker also noted that the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police opposed it in the House Local Government Committee, but Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Coll- bran, quickly admonished the freshman for presenting false information. Bradford, who heads that committee, later apologized for having her own facts wrong.
The bill requires a final House vote before it can head to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future because that chamber is controlled by Democrats.