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Colorado takes step to block ICE from courthouses

In response to ICE presence at courthouses, AFSC staff and volunteers accompany immigrant community members and their families to hearings and check-ins when requested.  Photo: Gabriela Flora / AFSC

In early March, the Colorado General Assembly passed a bipartisan bill that would bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from arresting people at courthouses—an important step in keeping immigrants, their families, and all community members safe. The governor has since signed it into law. 

The measure, SB83, is "the strongest state law to prohibit ICE arrests at courthouses. It prohibits making civil arrests of people in and around courthouses, as well as on their way to or from court proceedings, which include probation appointments,” said Arash Jahanian, an attorney with Meyer Law Office, which, with Sen. Julie Gonzales, led the development and passage of this bill. 

The presence of ICE in Colorado courthouses has resulted in the detention and deportation of our community members—and had a chilling effect on those attending court, creating severe anxiety for directly impacted people and their family members. 

The bill’s passage came after months of advocacy by immigrants and their families, who shared with lawmakers and the media how ICE’s presence in courthouses has impacted their lives. “In both the House and Senate committee hearings, more than 20 witnesses testified that this bill preserves access to justice, the integrity of Colorado's courts, and community safety, while no one testified against the bill,” Arash noted.  

AFSC's Not1More members lobbied legislators to support SB83 during Latino Advocacy Days at the Colorado State Capitol.

Those who lobbied their legislators to support the bill included members of Not1More, an immigrant-led community group in Colorado coordinated by AFSC where immigrant families come together to support each other and share tactics to fight deportation keep their families together.

Several Not1More members have had family members picked up outside of court hearings and at probation check-ins.That includes, Hilda Martinez, whose husband was arrested outside of his court hearing and is now being held at GEO detention center.

Here’s what Hilda had to say about the importance of SB83: 

“We know it is very important to comply with our court dates and probation appointments, but sometimes because of fear we don’t go and this significantly impacts us. This is from fear of being separated for our families. 

Our families are the most important thing for us, and ICE doesn’t care. It is as if they don’t have families and don’t know how painful it is to lose a loved one. ICE only sees us as a way to make money. Not caring about the damage they cause us, principally on our children, who don’t understand what is happening. Our children don’t know anything of laws nor immigration—they only know that their father, mother, sibling, or loved one isn’t by their side to love, care for, and protect them all from danger.

My family was separated since September of 2019. Since then my children cry for their father. They miss him and need him by their side. For me it is very hard to be by myself with my four children. Providing them with a home and the basics like a plate of food and clothes to cover their little bodies is not easy. With my husband by my side, it is different as we are a team, and we help and support each other in everything—together everything is possible. 

The family is a sacred nucleus that ICE doesn’t have the right to hurt and destroy. We will not sit back and let this continue to happen. We continue our fight and will not let them continue to hurt and separate and us.” 

AFSC operates a program—which now has 70 volunteers—to accompany any community member who asks us to be physically present with them in court. Since 2017, we have also worked with other community groups as part of the Colorado Rapid Response Network. Now with over 700 volunteers across the state and in southern Wyoming, we respond to calls, verify, and engage in legal observation of ICE activity, including ICE’s presence at court. 

Last year, three volunteers with the Rapid Response Network and I responded to one of these calls reporting that ICE was in the Denver County court. When we arrived, we saw three armed plainclothes ICE officials and followed them throughout the courthouse. Eventually they left without arresting anyone. 

With the passage of this law, we're looking forward to incidents like these becoming a thing of the past as we continue to push back on unjust immigration enforcement in Colorado. SB83 is an important step forward in this effort to getting ICE out of our courts, creating safe spaces for all people, and promoting participation and trust in our communities.  

About the Author

Gabriela Flora works in the Denver Office of AFSC as the Regional Project Voice Organizer. You can learn more of her story by watching a video she put together as part of the Denver Immigrant Digital Storytelling project.

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