Democrats pass bill to stop Trump administration from rounding up minorities

March 16, 2017 Updated: March 17, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Democrats on Thursday advanced a bill aimed at preventing the federal government from rounding up minority groups under President Donald Trump's presidency.

Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, sponsors of the bill, used images of the Star of David placed on Jews, as well as Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II, as examples of why the bill is needed.

"Over the course of a year, this country has experienced a drastic and negative change in tenor and policy towards various American communities ... Muslims, Jews, immigrant communities have been the topic of national scorn and hateful stereotypes and myths," said Salazar, who recently announced his 2018 campaign for attorney general. "These communities have seen a drastic rise in hate crimes."

House Bill 1230 passed the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee on a party-line 7-4 vote, with Republicans opposing the measure. If it makes it to the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill would face an uphill battle.

The legislation comes as an uptick in vandalism has been reported at Jewish cemeteries and community centers across the country. And a high-profile case in Kansas caught the nation's attention after a man allegedly opened fire on two Indians just after shouting, "Get out of my country."

Fears have grown after Trump and his advisers refused to rule out use of a Muslim registry.

Carl Higbie, a prominent Trump supporter, said in November shortly after the election that mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a "precedent" for a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was a key member of Trump's transition team, said shortly after the election that Trump's advisers were weighing a formal proposal for a national registry of immigrants and visitors from Muslim countries.

Trump has distanced himself a bit from those talking points and individuals since taking office.

But he has also issued controversial executive orders requiring a crackdown of illegal immigration and banning travel from some Muslim-majority nations. The ban has been blocked twice by federal judges.

Some fear that the president would use the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants, though the administration has downplayed those concerns.

House Bill 1230 is called the Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act, named after former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr, who fought the use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

The bill would prohibit the state from assisting the federal government with collecting data that could be used in identifying people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, or religious affiliation. It also would prohibit the state from physically assisting with any roundup.

Sponsors of the bill framed it as a states' rights issue.

But Rep. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, said control over the nation's borders is an enforcement right afforded to the federal government. He still said he appreciated the "spirit" of the bill.

"I think the creation of registries and lists is abhorrent to everything we stand for," Wist said.

It's unclear what authority the state would have to deny a request from the federal government, or what punitive measures could be taken against the state. The legislation is a first for any legislature, sponsors said.

Trump has committed to withholding federal funds from cities that offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

While the definition of a "sanctuary city" remains unclear, Denver could be considered one. Mayor Michael Hancock said that the city would not "support taking unlawful or unconstitutional actions on behalf of our federal forces."

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, last month hosted an event at Union Station in Denver, in which he declared, "refugees, welcome."

House Bill 1230 was amended on Thursday to expand data that local law enforcement would be allowed to share with the federal government related to certain criminal investigations. With the amendment, police chiefs said they were neutral on the bill.

Sponsors also repeatedly emphasized that nothing in the measure would prohibit law enforcement from arresting criminals.

But some argue that it's the perception of the bill that makes them concerned.

"However the bill is worded, I think it will be perceived that Colorado is a sanctuary state where criminals can go and hide," said Charlene Hardcastle, who was affiliated with Colorado Women for Trump during the election.

Hardcastle pointed to the January murder of a Regional Transportation District security guard, in which reports stated that the suspect had pledged his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State. But later statements from the suspect conflict with his earlier comments about ISIS and a motive remains unclear.

There was little opposition to the bill expressed at the hearing on Thursday.

Salazar countered opposition with stories of children being dropped off at school by a parent, only to have their parent deported, as well as Muslims who have had their hijab forcefully removed from their head.

Dr. Jo Ann Fujioka, who lived in the Japanese-American internment camps as a toddler, took issue with people suggesting that such a dark event could never happen again.

"It is just as crazy that people can think that it can never happen to you," she said. "You really must stand up for your rights and we must stand together because it might be you that's next."

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