Local law enforcement officials say an immigration bill in the Colorado Legislature requiring them to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities isn't the answer to illegal immigration.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, would require local law enforcement officials to report suspected illegal immigrants to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. State funding would be cut off for any local government entity that didn't comply.
But law enforcement agencies in Moffat County and across the state have come out against the bill, saying it would be a burden to local departments.
Craig police Chief Walt Vanatta said he opposes the bill because enforcing immigration laws is the federal government's responsibility.
"The sponsor is trying to force local entities to do a job that the federal government isn't doing, and in some cases, refuses to do," Vanatta said.
Withholding state funding from governments that didn't comply with the measure is akin to blackmail, Vanatta said.
Wiens said the bill is aimed at enforcing immigration laws.
"This goes to the very heart of whether we're a nation of laws or not," Wiens told the Associated Press.
But local officials say the state Legislature isn't the right venue for making immigration laws.
Illegal immigration needs to be addressed on the federal level, Vanatta said.
"I think the state Legislature needs to be addressing this issue with congress," he said.
Vanatta is a member and past president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, which has come out against the legislation.
Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said he, too, opposes the legislation.
Grinstead said he understands public frustration with illegal immigration but that forcing local authorities to deal with illegal immigrants isn't the answer.
"We need the federal government to step up to the plate," Grinstead said.
Under current law, local authorities will arrest and jail illegal immigrants if they commit a crime.
But once the criminal case is finished, illegal immigrants are the responsibility of the federal government, Grinstead said.
However, Grinstead said, federal authorities tell sheriff's deputies they don't have the resources to detain and deport every illegal immigrant.
Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, said federal authorities try to prioritize whom they deport.
Illegal immigrants who commit crimes are always the top priority, he said.
In 2004, the agency deported 162,000 illegal immigrants, Rusnok said, of which 85,000 had committed a crime while in the U.S.
Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.