Colorado Editorials:Teller and El Paso county sheriffs are on the wrong side of the law

The Associated Press

Teller and El Paso county sheriffs are on the wrong side of the law

The sheriffs in Teller and El Paso counties got it wrong when they decided to hold people in jail — beyond when a judge ordered they be released — at the behest of immigration officials.

To put it simply, no one can be held in jail without a legal basis and violations of federal immigration laws are civil, not criminal, matters.

This isn’t a question of liberal sanctuary city policies that are protecting immigrants from deportation; fundamentally, this is a question of civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has filed lawsuits against both sheriffs departments for their practices.

We suspect that if these separate cases from southern Colorado come before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the ruling will be that Colorado law enforcement agencies cannot honor civil detainers — which are tantamount to requests — from immigration officials without a judge issuing an arrest warrant.

Other federal courts have already weighed in on the issue and ruled that law enforcement in Oregon and Pennsylvania cannot hold people in jail on civil detainers. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled similarly.

This is an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court needs to address.

But aside from the legal question, there is also the pressing policy question, one that gets to the heart of “sanctuary city” policies: Should local law enforcement be in the business of helping federal officials detain people who are immigration priorities?

In other words, should our state lawmakers be attempting to pass a law that recognizes civil immigration offenses as arrestable offenses under Colorado law, something that would empower law enforcement to make an arrest based on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer request or to take it a step further to make arrests based on suspected immigration violations?

We are convinced that local law enforcement functions best when they are not entangled in the complicated business of trying to enforce federal immigration laws. America is not and should not be a country where everyone must carry their papers or risk arrest. Nor should it be a country where victims who lack citizenship are afraid to call police or where innocent bystanders run from crime scenes so they don’t risk being taken in for questioning.

Already our police and sheriff departments are cooperating with immigration officials — passing along the fingerprints of everyone booked into jail to federal authorities for screening, and notifying ICE officials if people who have been flagged immigration priorities are going to be released.

A painful reminder of the short-comings of this system was the murder of Tim Cruz at the Sheridan Boulevard RTD station in February 2017. Ever Valles pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and accessory to murder in that case. Valles had been released from jail a year before the crime despite being a priority for ICE agents.

Notice of Valles’s release was sent to ICE agents only 20 minutes before Valles posted $5,000 bond and was released.

Surely, more could have been done in that case to keep Valles off the streets. After all, Valles was held for two months in jail before his release, giving ample time for ICE officials to come up with a plan to apprehend the deportation priority.

Our broken federal immigration laws have hoisted this impossible balancing act upon local law enforcement, who are doing their best to keep our communities safe. It’s time for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

The Denver Post, Sept. 4

Colorado is ready to change how it handles redistricting

The ballot for November’s election promises to be long and complicated as voters decide a slew of races for statewide and local elected offices as well as several ballot issues.

The Coloradoan editorial board plans to provide opinions and endorsements on races and ballot measures that matter most to readers. Let’s start with an easy one.

Proposed amendments Y and Z to the state constitution would change Colorado’s system for redrawing boundaries for congressional districts as well as House and Senate districts for the state General Assembly.

Redistricting is done every 10 years following the national census. The intent is to have districts with roughly the same number of residents. In Colorado, state law dictates the process, which is overseen by the Legislature.

In most states, including Colorado, redistricting is heavily politicized and messy as Republicans and Democrats battle over district lines to protect their turf. The parties are not interested in competitive elections: They want to continue a status quo that favors their numbers and interests.

Redistricting can result in blatant drawing of district boundaries to favor the party controlling the process. Boundaries are drawn to include or exclude neighborhoods based on voter registration information, demographics and electoral history.

The practice is known as gerrymandering. It’s a way to fix the outcome of elections for years to come. Gerrymandering would be expressly prohibited under the amendments.

Colorado has a long history of disputes over redistricting, with courts ending up deciding the configuration of district maps the last 20 years.

The amendments come in advance of the 2020 U.S. Census, which is expected to add a congressional district to the state based on Colorado’s population growth.

Amendment Y would change how congressional districts are drawn; Amendment Z would change how state House and Senate districts are drawn. In both cases, responsibility would be taken from the Legislature and given to a 12-member independent commission.

The commission would be made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and four unaffiliated members. Commissioners would come from all the state’s congressional districts.

A three-member panel of retired judges would filter applications to be on the commission. Half of the commission would be selected through a lottery system; the other half would be picked by the judges, who would weigh factors such as a candidate’s gender as well as their geographic, political and ethnic backgrounds.

Preliminary maps would be drawn by nonpartisan legislative staff members. To be adopted, at least eight of the 12 commissioners, including at least two unaffiliated members, must approve the map.

The idea is to have districts that are relatively compact with about the same number of residents while not splitting communities of interest and political subdivisions, such as cities and counties.

One of the goals of the process would be to create districts that are competitive and fair. That might not be possible in every district given the other factors that would go into establishing boundaries, but it’s an admirable target.

Support for the amendments comes from unusually diverse sources. Bipartisan cooperation at the General Assembly for the proposals brought them to the ballot with unanimous support in the House and Senate.

There is no identified opposition to the amendments, although we understand members of minor parties such as the Green, Constitutional and Libertarian aren’t happy that seats for unaffiliated commissioners would go to residents who are not members of any party, not just the Republican and Democrat parties.

But we think the prescribed makeup of the commission is reflective of Colorado and its voters. A third of voters do not want to be associated with any party, although they should still have a say in how election districts are created.

The Coloradoan editorial board supports the proposed amendments and the stability and rationality they promise to bring to Colorado’s method for redistricting. Perhaps this method could serve as a model for other states to follow.

To be adopted, the amendments must be approved by 55 percent of voters in the November election.

We hope voters see the value of the proposals and the goal of having fair and truly representative elections. Colorado is ready for a change in the status quo.

Coloradoan, Aug. 31

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