El Paso County Sheriff, county commissioners sue state over immigration laws

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado Springs, June 12, 2023.

El Paso County Sheriff Joseph Roybal and the county commissioners are suing the State of Colorado over legislation that limits relationships between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration officials. 

Roybal and the county are joining a suit originally filed by Douglas County. In recent years, Colorado lawmakers have passed laws that strengthen immigrant protections, including HB19-1124, which prevents law enforcement officers from arresting or detaining an individual based on their immigration status. It also prevents authorities from sharing specific information, including one’s immigration status, with federal officials.  

The lawsuit targets HB19-1124 and one other law that restricts the ability of local governments to detain immigrants for the federal government. It argues those policies violate the Colorado Constitution and infringe on local rule. El Paso County commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday, with one member absent, to join the lawsuit. 

Commissioners said current state law prevents law enforcement from detaining criminals. 

“To me, this is a logical step that we can make in order to do the very best that we can do for our citizens,” said District 2 Commissioner Carrie Geitner.

The litigation is the latest action El Paso County officials have taken against Colorado’s immigration laws. During this year’s legislative session, a Republican-backed bill that would have reversed many immigration reforms failed in committee. Roybal and other Colorado sheriffs testified in support of the bill.

“I am incredibly disappointed in the lack of support from our legislature for HB 24-1128,” Roybal wrote following the bill failing to pass. “This legislation would have added another tool into the belt of law enforcement and helped us keep dangerous, violent criminals off our streets.”

El Paso County has been vocal about its unwillingness to welcome new immigrants to its cities. In late January, the Board of Commissioners called a press conference to state that the county is at capacity and under-resourced. Shortly afterward, members of the Colorado Springs City Council voted for a resolution that stated it isn’t a “sanctuary city.”

There is no consistent legal definition of what it means to be a sanctuary city, according to immigration law experts. While state law makes it harder for local law enforcement to cooperate with federal officials, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is still free to conduct its own operations and detain undocumented immigrants in its own facilities.