DENVER – President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday that would strip all federal funding from cities and counties, including several in Colorado, that do not help federal agents target and deport people specifically for living in the U.S. illegally.
Another order signed Wednesday will affect visas and immigration from a handful of predominantly-Muslim nations in Africa and the Middle East that have large immigrant populations in the Denver area, and is causing further concern and questions among those groups.
Though the White House has not outlined exactly how the orders would be executed or how much federal money could be lost by municipalities that do not comply, Denver city councilors said Wednesday that some of their constituents who are either immigrants or undocumented citizens were “terrified” by Trump’s orders.
The largest questions about the orders stem from the fact that there is no technical legal definition of what a “sanctuary city” is.
But the term has been applied to hundreds of cities and counties across the country that have said they would not readily comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seeking to arrest and deport people only on the basis they are suspected of being in the country illegally.
HOW WOULD FEDERAL FUNDING ORDER AFFECT COLORADO CITIES?
Denver would stand to lose the largest amount of federal funding in the state, comparatively, should the new order be applied to it.
In 2015, the city received $175 million from the federal government, which represented almost 10 percent of the city’s budget.
That same year, Aurora got nearly $11.5 million in federal funding; the average federal funding for the city between 2013 and 2015 was $9.2 million, according to a city spokeswoman.
Boulder received nearly $9 million in federal funding in 2015, and budget reports show the city was expected to receive $8.7 million and $8.5 million in federal money in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Boulder Executive Budget Officer Peggy Bunzli told the Daily Camera in early January that the city would be able to overcome the loss of the $8 million in federal money.
COLORADO OFFICIALS BARE TEETH IN RESPONSE TO ORDERS
Denver, Aurora and Boulder all have said they won’t turn over suspected undocumented immigrants solely on the basis they are in the country illegally.
But Boulder is the only city of the three to have an official policy on its books, which the city council approved earlier this month in a largely-symbolic vote.
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told Denver7 Wednesday his city “has never been a sanctuary city” but that he and city councilors “will need to closely examine and review how those changes may, or may not, affect Aurora.”
And though Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also said Wednesday Denver is not technically a “sanctuary city,” he made clear that Trump’s orders were not in line with the city’s outlook for immigrants – going so far as to call Trump’s actions “unconstitutional.”
“The Executive Orders signed today put our economic security as a nation at risk, and I am deeply disappointed,” Hancock said. “We have a history of being a city of opportunity for everyone, and we have every intention to maintain our character. This is about what is best for the residents of Denver, and I will remain steadfast in doing everything I can to protect our people – immigrants or not – and protect their rights.”
The Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff’s Department both comply with federal immigration laws, said city spokeswoman Amber Miller, who added that the two agencies would leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities and not participate.
“What Denver will never support is unlawful detention in our jails or requiring our police to do the job of ICE,” Miller said.
Hancock was not the only Denver elected official to back the city’s people regardless of where they came from.
Denver District 11 Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who represents one of the districts with the highest Latino, African and Middle Eastern populations in the city, said she hoped the orders would be challenged in court, and that many of her constituents were fearful since Election Day that such orders would be made.
“We need to be sure we’re not perpetuating the cycles that made [immigrants] seek out the U.S. in the first place,” Gilmore told Denver7. “I think it’s a horrible message that we’re giving to folks that reside here, and to the rest of the world, in how the U.S. treats most of our folks.”
She said Trump’s actions amounted to an “unprecedented time” in America’s history.
“I don’t stand on that side of history. I stand on the side of welcoming folks with open arms and creating the best society that we can. We need people from everywhere involved in our policies, in our communities in the U.S. This hard line does not create that.”
Councilman Paul Lopez, who represents Denver’s District 3, also called the orders unconstitutional.
“The intent is racist and rooted in bigotry,” Lopez said. “Denver will not be bullied or coerced. We value all people in our city, and that includes immigrants and refugees.”
He said he has told his constituents, several of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants, that they should not be afraid. He said his district was hard-working and “respects people from every background, every creed.”
“We don’t look at the Constitution as a mechanism to restrict people’s lives and take away people’s rights,” Lopez told Denver7. “We look at the Constitution as something that defends human rights. I represent people born here who have been here for generations – since before it was the U.S. – and people who are new Americans. The common theme that I see is that they love this country.”
Denver-area immigrant groups also opposed the move by Trump Wednesday, as did several of Colorado’s elected representatives in Congress.
“Today’s actions by President Trump conflict with America’s values and principles of freedom, liberty and prosperity, and contradict our nation’s history of inclusiveness,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.
“Holding cities hostage by threatening to cut federal funding places an unfunded burden on local municipalities to enforce federal immigration law, and runs contrary to their constitutional rights,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
"President Trump's orders today do not reflect long-held American values. They do not reflect Colorado values,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. “Over the last few years, as fear of immigrants and refugees has increased in some places, Coloradans have pulled together and made clear that we will not be divided. While saddened by this day, I know we will come together again as a community and do what is right."
None of Colorado’s Republican Congressmen issued official statements on Wednesday’s orders.
NATURALIZED CITIZEN: ‘WALL IS A STATEMENT OF DIVISION’
For Lizeth Chacon of Thornton, Wednesday’s executive orders hit a personal note. Now a naturalized citizen and immigrant advocate who regularly works in the state Capitol, Chacon grew up in Mexico and came to the United States at age 12.
“The United States is a country of opportunities, a country of freedom – liberty for everyone,” she said.
But now, she says, she is skeptical that is the case. Also included in Trump’s orders Wednesday is a plan to complete the much-discussed southern border wall, which already exists in some places along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“To me, that’s a statement of hate. That’s a statement of division,” Chacon said.
Though she said she had feared a Trump presidency would bring changes, now that they are moving forward, she says she’s prepared to take action.
Chacon says she has family who are undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
“I’m having conversations with my own family members…what happens if immigration comes to your door or if something else happens?” she said.
But Chacon says she is working to find tangible solutions to speed up the legal immigration process and remove bureaucratic red tape so others who believe in the American Dream can live it.
“This is a country that was made up of immigrants. So why don’t we have a conversation about immigrants in a way that’s welcoming and in a way that’s a dialogue rather than just hateful and divisive?” she wondered.
It’s still unclear exactly what will come of the executive orders and how they will be enforced, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer made it clear that the White House believes the orders have teeth.
“The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws,” he said.
But Denver appears ready to put up a fight.
Denver7's Marc Stewart and Liz Gelardi contributed to this report.