Pitkin County commissioners formalize immigration stance

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, left, listens Tuesday as Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock explains a resolution supporting immigrants during a county commission meeting.
Anna Stonehouse / The Aspen Times |

Pitkin County officials want to send President Donald Trump this message: We will not help you round up law-abiding undocumented immigrants in our community.

“I don’t want to live in a ‘papers, please’ society,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “We’re seeing a deterioration … of what had been traditional American values.”

To officially enshrine that message, county commissioners and Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo on Tuesday detailed a resolution that will be voted on at today’s regular commission meeting. Public comment on the resolution will be taken April 26, when it is likely to be adopted on second reading.

“The mere fact that someone is in the United States without documentation is not a crime nor a threat to public safety,” the resolution states. “Pitkin County desires to maintain trust with the valley’s immigrant community by clearly stating that immigrants are welcome in Pitkin County, and that Pitkin County seeks to limit cooperation with the federal government on immigration enforcement.”

Further, Pitkin County departments and personnel “shall not perform the functions of a federal immigration officer” or use county money or facilities to enforce or assist “any federal program requiring registration of individuals on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or national origin,” according to the resolution.

County departments will ask about someone’s immigration status only when necessary and won’t ask about immigration status when providing services or benefits unless it’s necessary, the resolution states.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies will not interrogate, investigate or arrest someone solely on the basis of actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status, or on the basis of an administrative warrant or immigration detainer, the resolution states.

The Sheriff’s Office also will not provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with “non-public information” about a person, including release date from detention, home address or work address unless the request is accompanied by a warrant signed by a judge, according to the resolution.

Finally, the Sheriff’s Office won’t allow ICE or Border Patrol to have access to a person in Pitkin County custody if the “sole purpose is enforcement of federal immigration law,” the resolution states.

“This is very much in line with Pitkin County history of standing up for the rights of others,” DiSalvo said. “These people are our friends, and I’m asking you stand up for them with me.”

The resolution was prompted by Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order calling on state and local governments to assist ICE and Border Patrol in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The president has threatened to withhold federal funds from local jurisdictions that refuse to help.

The resolution says that local law enforcement must have a warrant signed by a judge for a person or the arrest could violate the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. In addition, withholding federal funds violates Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the federal government from compelling states to enact a “federal regulatory program,” according to a Pitkin County memo.

Finally, participating in federal immigration enforcement “hurts public safety by eroding trust in local governments,” the memo states. For example, illegal immigrants may stop reporting crimes or participating in public health actions like immunizations, the memo states.

And while the federal government may still be able to withhold some federal grants given to Pitkin County for law enforcement or the Pitkin County Jail, those amounts are relatively small, according to the memo. The county received $6,885 in law enforcement-related federal grant money in 2016, according to the memo. DiSalvo said he participated in two federal immigration raids in the Aspen area in the late ’80s and early ’90s and said it was “frankly frightening to see people running from police.” Recently, he said he’s spoken with immigrants at local restaurants, who told him they are afraid that they might leave the house one day and be put on a bus for Denver and Grand Junction and be deported.

“I felt I wanted to put them at ease,” he said. “I think people are very afraid right now.”

Samuel Bernal, vice president of a company that runs La Tricolor radio station in Basalt, agreed.

“The [Hispanic] community is afraid and confused, as well,” he said.

ICE has not conducted any raids in the Roaring Fork Valley so far, but officers have arrested illegal immigrants at courthouses in the area and deported them, Bernal said.

The county’s resolution — which Bernal said he planned to publicize on his radio station — will make a difference to members of the community, he said.

“It’s important for people to feel safe,” Bernal said. “These kinds of messages are always welcome for them.”

Commissioner George Newman said the resolution is “not a left-wing radical idea.”

“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said. “We’re talking about values we hold true, not only as a county, but as a country, too.”

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