DENVER - President-Elect Donald Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from cities that don’t tow-the-line on immigration.
“We will end sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths,” he said on August 31. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayers’ dollars.”
That threat has raised concerns in cities like Denver and Aurora, where police departments have said they won’t enforce federal immigration law, because they don’t have the resources and because that's the federal government’s job.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says that doesn’t mean the cities don’t cooperate.
“We follow the law,” he told Denver7. “We still cooperate with agencies and ICE (Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement) but we won’t do anything unlawful or unconstitutional.”
That means Denver won’t detain someone for ICE officials once their adjudicated sentence has been served.
When federal courts began to rule in 2014 that cities lack the authority to hold inmates in local jails beyond the term of their sentence, Denver modified its policies in regard to detainers, to conform to constitutional standards, as did numerous state and local agencies throughout the United States.
When asked if Denver is a sanctuary city, the mayor replied, “Denver never adopted a formal policy to be a sanctuary city. What we are is a very welcoming and inclusive city.”
The inclusive city of Denver received $175-million from the federal government in 2015. Much of it was spent on transportation, affordable housing and other forms of public assistance.
Hancock said he doesn’t think the federal government will withhold money from Denver and other big cities, but Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who chairs the Finance Committee, said, “We accept the possibility of that risk.”
Kniech said federal funds are important but not more important than people.
“We, as a city council, discussed that yesterday, how strongly we support our residents and our obligations to those residents. If that’s the risk, we will face that risk.”
Kniech said Denver has seen the federal government turn its back on financial obligations for many reasons.
“Whether it’s due to government shutdowns or other political shenanigans in Congress, we have to have contingency plans in place,” she said. “We work to mitigate the impact on our residents.”
Kniech said if they have to face that challenge, “I’m confident we would use all the tools in our toolbox to help protect our residents.”
The councilwoman said she is interested in collaborating with other cities and towns.
Kniech is a member of the Board of Local Progress, which includes people who serve on city councils and county commissioners, who are committed to the values of inclusiveness and a stronger economy for their most vulnerable constituents.
“I have been working with colleagues in Austin, Texas, New York City, Los Angeles and other cities all across the country who are standing up to these threats just as Denver is,” she said. “I’m confident we have a national movement.”
The mayor’s staff pointed out that between 2006 and 2013, the State of Colorado adopted and enforced a law (SB 06-90) which required the state to withhold certain grants from any city that had adopted “sanctuary” policies, and defined the term to mean: “Local government ordinances or policies that prohibit local officials, including peace officers, from communicating or cooperating with federal officials with regard to the immigration status of any person within the state.”
During that time, no state grants were ever withheld from the city, because Denver was not deemed to have adopted a “sanctuary” policy within the meaning of that statute.
Other Colorado cities concerned
Aurora received $11-million from the feds last year.
When asked if they’re concerned about a loss of federal funds, Lori MacKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city, said, “We don’t want to speculate because it’s simply too early to know what will take shape at the federal level.”
Trump’s threats are also a concern to the city of Boulder.
In an emailed statement, Boulder Communications Director Patrick von Keyserling told Denver7 that Boulder’s City Council asked staff to conduct research into the impacts of declaring Boulder a sanctuary city.
He said no decision has been made, but acknowledged that the issue of declaring sanctuary is one that has legal and financial implications.
“The city’s research will take into account the potential loss of federal dollars, impact on existing city services and programs and staff’s ability to serve Boulder residents, as well as our community’s strong commitment to social justice,” he said.