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Is Colorado a Sanctuary State...Or Not?

"Children play between the campsite and Quality Inn Denver Downtown" on Nov. 16

photo via Getty Images, the Denver Post, Hyoung Chang

By Lori York, DVM

That may sound like a stupid question, but I didn’t really understand what it means to be a “sanctuary “state.  What started this questioning in my mind was that I had heard or read somewhere this week that a “sanctuary” city is required to provide housing to all illegal migrants.  I thought “really?”  So, I googled “Is Colorado a Sanctuary state?’  This is the top answer I got:

Summarizer:” As of Jan 2024, Colorado is not considered a sanctuary state, according to a spokesperson for Governor Jared Polis. However, in 2019, Governor Polis signed House Bill 1124, which prohibits state and local law enforcement from honoring immigration detainers or requests by ICE to hold a criminal alien already in custody for up to 48 hrs., unless they are accompanied by a judicial warrant.”

I also read in AXIOS Denver dated Jan 5, 2023 that” Colorado is not a sanctuary state, and the Governor is not focused on buzzwords but on ensuring our law enforcement resources go toward fighting actual crimes to make Colorado safer”, said Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis.

So WHY does the Center for Immigration Studies (, state, as of Dec 22, 2023 that Colorado, Denver and 13 counties in Colorado are labeled “sanctuaries”?  and WHY does the Federation for American Immigration Reform ( call Colorado a sanctuary state? It even mentions the Detention Ban Bill that prohibited state and local governmental entities from contracting with ICE as well as prohibiting any new private detention facilities, which Governor Polis signed into law on June 6, 2023.

According to an article in the Denver Post, dated Jan 12, 2023 the author Saja Hindi quoted Violeta Chapin, the interim director of CU Boulder’s Immigration Law and Policy Program saying that Colorado has become “radically more immigrant-friendly than it used to be”  and “places like Colorado that declares itself “sanctuary”, regardless of what that means, means generally to an immigrant who is coming that this is one of the places that’s at least safer for them than perhaps Texas or Florida”

So, what EXACTLY does it mean to be a sanctuary city or state?  According to the American Immigration Council website “there is no universal definition of a sanctuary policy” Sanctuary policies take many forms, but the common theme is that under a sanctuary policy, state and local officials will limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials. Nowhere did I find any policy that require cities/states to provide anything!

So how is it going in Denver right now? A Headline from AXIOS Denver dated Jan 3, 2024: Denver’s migrant crisis hits a “breaking point”. This article written by Alayna Alverez states that Denver is providing shelter for more than 4000 migrants as of Wednesday afternoon, and it has received more migrants per capita than any other city in the US.”  Also “the flood of newcomers has resulted in hundreds of individuals and families living on the streets, with most migrants desperately struggling to find jobs and nearly every available hotel room across the city already filled” and “Now the city has renewed its offer of bus tickets to other cities of their choosing”.  Says Denver’s mayor Johnson: this “migrant crisis could cost up to $180 million this year, roughly 15% of the city’s budget.”

So why should we in Montezuma County care about Denver?  How do we know that they are not busing the migrants to other locations in the state? How many Illegal migrants are housed in Cortez right now?  Some migrants are heading to ski resort towns, where labor is in constant demand.  So maybe that Cortez is not a Ski resort is a PLUS?   I cannot help but believe that small towns in Colorado are not immune to this migrant crisis. It is now extremely easy for illegal migrants to get a drivers license in Colorado, and once they have that, why would they leave the state?  As a small town or rural county, we cannot afford to be spending our limited resources of taking care illegal migrants.  

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