DENVER (AP) – A Colorado immigration law intended to crack down on people in the country illegally is an example of misplaced priorities and has resulted in detentions for low-level crimes and longer jail stays, activists said in a report Wednesday.
The study from the Colorado Fiscal Institute, a left-leaning advocacy group, criticizes the 2006 law that requires police to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities.
The law has cost state about $13 million annually, enough to hire 200 additional police and sheriff’s deputies, the report said. Legislators should revisit this law and “ask again if immigration enforcement is the right priority for local communities,” the report concluded.
Supporters of the law known as SB90 say that it’s appropriate – and that it doesn’t go far enough.
“I think it’s the right direction for the state to go in. I don’t even think it’s sufficient,” said Republican state Sen. Kent Lambert, who has sponsored strict immigration legislation in the past.
Lambert said people in the country illegally are breaking the law, and authorities shouldn’t ignore that.
Republican state Sen. Ted Harvey, who sponsored the legislation, did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Wednesday.
He previously has said he’s disappointed that authorities don’t enforce the law appropriately. Harvey says officers only notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials when people are taken to jails. He says the law was written to cast a wide net and should be applied during traffic stops and other cases that don’t lead to bookings.
Under the law, suspects are held in local jails if ICE officials request. It is sometimes weeks, however, before federal officials pick them up, according to the report.
The report’s estimate of the law’s expense isn’t definitive, since it’s extrapolated from data in only two metro-area jurisdictions – Denver and Broomfield.
Still, $13 million is a “pretty conservative estimate overall,” since it doesn’t account for counties such as Arapahoe and Weld, which have higher rates of enforcing the law, said Kathy A. White, the study’s author.
White acknowledged that data for how often ICE issues a detainer “is not great. It’s incomplete.” But she stands by the estimate, saying ICE issued detainers about 40 percent of the time when Denver and Broomfield made notifications in 2010 and 2011.
The report then calculated that the average length of stay at a Denver jail for suspected illegal immigrants is 22 days longer than the rest of the inmate population.
The report said that if the same pattern in Denver and Broomfield exists in the rest of state, then the state is spending $13 million annually to detain suspected illegal immigrants, based on a statewide average of $55 per day to house inmates.
Opponents of the law have said they fear it harms trust between minority communities and law enforcement.
The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police had opposed SB90, citing concerns from immigrant rights groups.
Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson, the association’s legislative liaison, said the law may be redundant now because of the federal Secure Communities program, which checks the immigration status by referencing the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into a jail.
He said there have been discussions with immigrant rights groups about legislation next year to scrap SB90, but his association has not taken a position on whether to support that.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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