Proposed Colorado immigration bill sparks debate
DENVER (AP) – Colorado law enforcement would have to alert prosecutors if they suspect a person in their custody is an illegal immigrant under a bill tentatively approved Thursday by House lawmakers.
The bill would also force bail bond agents to forfeit a bond if a client is deported, a move meant to make the businesses more diligent about their transactions.
Legislators approved House Bill 1088 on a voice vote without any lawmakers speaking against it, but several yelled “No!” during the vote call. The proposal still faces another vote before it heads to the Senate.
Immigrant advocates say they’re worried the bill will lead to discrimination but supporters argue the proposal is needed to make prosecutors aware of a suspect’s immigration status and whether he or she is a flight risk.
“This bill is about ensuring that the parties who are charged with crimes appear in Colorado court to face justice,” said Republican Rep. Mark Barker, the bill’s prime sponsor. “That’s all it does.”
Barker made substantial changes to his bill to appease concerns from opponents before his colleagues voted on the House floor. When Barker first introduced it, his bill sought to lower the legal standard of “probable cause” to “reasonable grounds” for believing someone was in the country illegally when determining bail. His bill also would have required judge’s to consider a person’s immigration status when setting bail.
Barker’s bill now contains the existing standard of probable cause and he eliminated the language about judge’s needing to consider immigration status on bail hearings. That’s something that’s already allowed under current statutes, said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, which supports Barker’s bill.
Raynes said some opponents of the measure worried that lowering the probable cause standard at bail hearings and on whether to alert prosecutors about a suspect’s immigration status would lead to a “witch hunt.”
“And I said, you know what? I don’t want to have that argument. I don’t believe law enforcement will do that but if it makes folks more comfortable to leave (the probable cause standard) the way it is, let’s leave it the way it is,” he said.
The modified bill still concerns immigrant advocates. Hans Meyer, policy director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said the group is “encouraged by the fact that some of the more noxious provisions were stripped out,” but that they still believe it will have negative impacts.
“Furthermore, the bill would create an environment that incentivizes the use of inappropriate factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, and language skills in the setting of a reasonable bail,” he said.
Dennis Barlett, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, said the bail industry opposes the bill.
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