Colorado Springs approves resolution declaring it is not a sanctuary city

colorado springs city hall
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Springs City Hall, June 12. 2023.

Members of the Colorado Springs City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday to affirm the city’s position that is is not a sanctuary city for new immigrants from the southern border. The vote on the resolution followed hours of mostly oppositional public testimony on the subject, with several speakers describing the measure as a fear-mongering political statement. 

The resolution was drafted in response to approximately 40,000 new immigrants arriving in Denver in the past year, most of whom were bussed up from Texas after crossing the border. Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s office has said the city could spend up to $180 million dollars managing the crisis in 2024. 

Dave Donelson, who represents District 1 on the Springs council, noted the recently passed city budget already had to dip into the city’s emergency reserve to cover the community’s current needs. He said the city does not have the resources to handle a surge of newcomers.

“We are not flush with cash and ready to pay for large-scale…illegal immigration, we don’t have that money,” Donelson said. “Denver is suffering greatly right now.”

Donelson, who sponsored the resolution, also joined El Paso County Commissioners earlier this month for a press conference urging residents to “refrain from welcoming this crisis by welcoming migrants.”

Nevertheless Jami Fabos, chief of staff to Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade, told council members the city has been preparing to respond should any significant number of immigrants arrive, despite statements from local political leaders.

“It certainly doesn’t take us asking for or inviting migrants into the city. We are just aware that with a humanitarian crisis certainly happening about 60 miles north of us, there is a real possibility for impacts,” Fabos said. 

Fabos told council members that city staff was aware of 21 new immigrant families recently passing through the Springs from Denver. About 9 families still remain and are receiving shelter in the city. Denver city officials have said they did not coordinate the transport of those families.

Residents both for and against the resolution packed the council chambers Tuesday, with public comment lasting about 3 hours. Those opposed said the legally non-binding resolution was an unnecessary political statement unbecoming for a city priding itself on a set of strong christian values. 

Patricia Reitwiesner asked council members to think of possible negative impacts from such a proclamation. 

“How safe and productive will our city feel and be for citizens who look and sound like they could be immigrants?” Reitwiesner asked. “What legitimate tourist who might look and sound like an immigrant…would want to come here and face the possibility of perhaps having their documents checked or just the feeling of the place?”

Voting against the resolution were council members Yolanda Avila, Nancy Henjum and Michelle Talarico. Talarico urged the council to avoid making charged political statements. 

“While the county commissioners often behave in a highly partisan manner, we shouldn’t model their behavior,” she said. “This is a resolution that is operating from fear.”

Donelson was the only yes vote on the resolution to speak. He noted the stresses the city is already experiencing from increasing homelessness to a strained medical system.

“Those are the kinds of things that do concern me, and I think they concern some of my colleagues, Donelson said. “That’s why we felt that this was appropriate, to have a statement.”