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BoCC declares Archuleta County not a sanctuary county


Following extensive debates at several recent meetings, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved a resolution designating Archuleta County as a “non-sanctuary county” at its April 16 meeting.

The concept of passing a resolution stating that Archuleta County is not a sanctuary county for the purposes of sheltering and providing services for undocumented immigrants began with Commissioner Warren Brown presenting the idea at the March 19 BoCC work session, where he noted that he has heard concerns from constituents about the potential that busloads of undocumented immigrants could be brought to the county and that the county does not have a resolution stating that it is not a sanctuary county.

Brown stated that he would like to pass a resolution stating that the county is not a sanctuary county and noted that Sheriff Mike Le Roux had expressed support of such a resolution to him.

“It’s a no-brainer for me that we move forward,” Commissioner Ronnie Maez said.

Commissioner Veronica Medina stated that she did not oppose the idea of a resolution, but raised concerns about how such a resolution would impact the county Department of Human Services and other county departments, both in terms of operations and funding from the state.

County Attorney Todd Weaver seconded Medina’s concerns about the potential impact of the resolution on funding and operations for county departments.

Medina concluded the discussion by stating that the county should investigate the issue further before implementing a resolution, in addition to potentially clarifying the wording of the resolution.

At the April 2 BoCC work session, the board discussed the issue further, and Brown presented a potential resolution for board review and approval.

Sheriff Mike Le Roux then discussed the issue with the BoCC, noting that he supported the resolution due to the concerns about a lack of resources to provide services for large numbers of immigrants into the community.

He also stated that Colorado law prohibits him from arresting undocumented immigrants on the basis of them being undocumented, limiting what options the county would have to curtail the arrival of migrants.

Medina raised concerns about what impact this resolution would have and if it was simply a “feel-good” resolution or political statement without any actionable elements.

An extensive debate followed on the issue where Brown objected to Medina’s characterization of the resolution, stating that it did not feel good to him and that it was driven by a need to protect the county’s resources, which are already strained by the local population.

The board also discussed potential means to add “teeth” to the resolution, such as by drafting an ordinance that would give the sheriff enforcement options, although the group did not come to an agreement about what kind of ordinance would be useful or how to make it usable given the potential conflicts with state law.

At the request of the BoCC, Archuleta County Public Health Department (ACPHD) Executive Director Ashley Wilson also spoke, noting that the ACPHD likely does not have the resources to address large outbreaks of diseases like measles.

At the April 9 BoCC work session, County Manager Derek Woodman asked the BoCC what steps it wanted to take in moving forward with the resolution.

Another debate followed, with Medina expressing concerns about the wording and content of the resolution and stating that she would not support the current form of the resolution that Brown presented.

She also questioned the importance of passing a resolution, noting the likelihood of busloads of undocumented immigrants arriving in Archuleta County is low.

The debate concluded with the board agreeing that the other commissioners could present friendly amendments to the resolution.

Two versions of the proposed resolution were attached to the agenda for the April 16 BoCC meeting, published on April 12.

At the April 16 BoCC work session, the commissioners again debated the resolution, with Medina noting that she presented a revised version of the resolution for potential approval, but that it was shorter and less detailed than she wished it to be due to her not having an opportunity to consult with legal counsel on the ideal wording.

She added that she felt she was “under duress” due to the short time provided for supplying friendly amendments to the resolution given the agenda publication schedule.

Brown objected to this characterization, commenting that he initially raised the issue over a month ago.

Medina also stated that she would expect county staff to bring forward a potential ordinance to make the resolution more enforceable quickly given the rapidity and urgency with which the resolution was moved forward.

At the April 16 BoCC meeting, Woodman presented the two versions of the resolution to the board prior to the board hearing public comments from Candace Jones and Lee Stopher on the issue.

Jones commented that the resolution reflects “paranoia, but not a lot of facts” and noted that the likelihood of undocumented immigrants being relocated to the county is low, as Medina previously stated.

She questioned why the county has not made further efforts to indicate to the state that it cannot house undocumented immigrants and if this would be a more effective step than passing a resolution.

Jones also asked what costs the county thinks undocumented immigrants would create for the community and what the basis for these expectations is.

She questioned what additional enforcement authority the county feels the sheriff needs and highlighted that the county already has a large number of tourists potentially carrying infectious diseases who are not regulated or controlled by the county.

She commented that the county previously supported local opponents to masking and vaccination efforts by San Juan Basin Public Health, but “now you’re raising health concerns as an issue for keeping people out.”

She concluded that, if the BoCC passed the resolution, it should be “honest” about why and indicate that it was “giving in to reactionary constituents” who feel threatened while making the county appear “paranoid” to outsiders.

Stopher also expressed objections to the resolution, stating that she feels the resolution is unnecessary and difficult to enforce.

She also commented that the resolution is a “partisan document” and is in line with the positions of the Republican party, which has inhibited national immigration reform to ensure the issue escalates and can potentially benefit its presumptive presidential nominee in the 2024 election.

Stopher stated that the community has a large number of organizations that assist others in need and “you’re painting us all with a very negative brush.”

She concluded by stating that the resolution is a “huge waste of your time” and that she appreciated Medina’s opposition to the proposal.

“I sit here and I think, proof has been asked here,” Maez said. “I would regrettably not want to have to tell that to the families that have lost children because of an illegal immigrant in the United States. The thing is, you’re better ahead of the curve than behind the curve. It’s better to be proactive than reactive. I respect you guys’ opinion, you both know that I do, but in this matter, I’m looking out more for the welfare of the safety of the citizens of Archuleta County … instead of imposing a huge impact on the revenues of Archuleta County. … This is my best solution and it’s more of a statement, not an actual law. It’s not an ordinance. There could be an ordinance that will follow behind this, but this is merely a statement to state saying that we do not want this here unless everybody is willing to house a lot of people in their homes.”

Brown commented that he appreciated Jones’ and Stopher’s comments, adding, “This is a position statement that were a non-sanctuary county. It’s not that we’re against any one individual or any group of individuals; we simply do not have the resources that would enable us to provide services. And I think it’s a bad time to wait until after an emergency pops up for a difficult situation to try to cure it than getting ahead of it, I think, as Commissioner Maez alluded to, in trying to address this. This is real, this is happening in our state. It’s happening in other communities and I don’t see this as mean-spirited in any way. I see this as being very diligent to look out for the welfare of our county and to look after the resources, as few as they are, that we have available to us. So that was the intent here. … It’s been stated to me and some folks are concerned about a political rigamarole. I’m not really concerned with staying in office if that means I don’t do my job. I’m going to do my job … and however that comes and whatever result, it will be what it will be. That’s not my concern. I was voted in by the taxpayers to perform a particular job, and that’s what I’m doing.”

The board then discussed which of the two versions of the resolution it would choose, with Maez expressing support for the shorter of the two resolutions.

This resolution notes the county’s support of legal immigration, its recognition of those worldwide seeking refuge from oppressive governments and its respect for the United States’ history as a “beacon of freedom” before stating that the saturation of “displaced people” in urban Colorado has led to dispersion of some of these peoples into rural areas and creates the possibility that these people could arrive in Archuleta County.

It adds that the county lacks the resources to address the needs of its current residents and cannot support more before stating the county’s support for its citizens and taxpayers.

“Archuleta County declares that it is NOT a sanctuary county and will not open shelters or provide services, other than emergency services, to unsheltered homeless individuals that may arrive in unincorporated Archuleta County,” the resolution states. “Archuleta County will continue to prioritize the needs of our local citizens.”

It concludes by noting that the county supports the sheriff’s office in upholding the law and federal immigration policy and calling upon the county Board of Health to “issue proactive and responsive Public Health Orders regarding how an influx of immigrants would impact Archuleta County’s services and supplies.”

Brown commented that he appreciated Maez’s support of this version of the resolution and that it was something he could “live with.”

However, he added that this version of the resolution “falls short” of specifically highlighting the number of immigrants taken on by Denver, which is a sanctuary city, and their potential distribution across the state.

Brown commented that, despite these concerns, he would not be opposed to the “softer” version of the resolution.

Maez asked why the version of the resolution he favored is softer than the version Brown supported.

Brown commented that the version he supported more specifically highlighted Denver’s role as a sanctuary city in this issue.

He added that the version Maez preferred also did not speak to the county’s sympathy for humanitarian issues involved.

“I can live with this,” he said. “It’s just soft. And I’m OK with soft. We’re still stating the same position. If that’s what the other two commissioners feel OK with, I’m not opposed to it.”

Maez commented that he is not opposed to being more “stern,” but he was stating which resolution he liked best.

Brown then noted the differences between the versions of the resolution that he and Maez preferred, stating that his preferred language included language noting Denver’s status as a sanctuary city, language pointing out the negative impact of illegal immigrants on legal immigrants, and language stating that the county recognizes the humanitarian plight of immigrants and supports immigration through legal channels.

Medina commented that she supplied the language that Maez favored and stated that she left out the language concerning the county recognizing the plight of migrants was because this sentiment is already expressed earlier in the resolution.

“As you well know, we have talked about this topic ad nauseum,” Medina said. “While I do not necessarily disagree that we need to let the governor know that we cannot support a busload of people that have no means of taking care of themselves that are not sheltered or do not have shelter, my greatest concern is for our community and whether it’s illegal or just homeless or whatever it might be, that’s my concern for our county, hence why I pushed back. I have said that I didn’t see the urgency in this. It is good to be ahead of the curve, absolutely, and I have talked to other commissioners in Colorado and some of the reasons that they have agreed to put a resolution in place. Contrary to popular belief, it is not because of the party line, it is because of the detrimental effects on small communities that do not have the resources to provide shelter, food, clothing to these individuals. For that reason, I know I’ve pushed hard back on both commissioners in trying to do the right thing for Archuleta County, so I will open the floor for a motion.”

Brown then moved to approve the version of the resolution that he preferred.

“How is that harder than the one I read?” Maez said.

“It just has more factual,” Brown replied.

“It’s more direct toward Denver and all that, but I don’t see how it’s much harder,” Maez said. “The principal’s still the same.”

“That’s why I don’t have an issue,” Brown said.

Medina then seconded Brown’s motion, which passed unanimously.

“Again, appreciate,” Medina concluded. “And it did drag out way too long. Again, this is about our county, the resources that we have and what we cannot afford, and I do look forward for staff to put together a ordinance and it would not be about the individual, but there’s a different direction that we can take to give law enforcement something to actually enforce. So, thank you, commissioners.”