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Mayor: ‘We’re about public safety, and not immigration status’

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By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff

A proposed resolution aimed at protecting Carbondale’s Hispanic community from deportation and other anti-immigrant actions, by police or by the town, was passed by the town’s Board of Trustees (BOT) this week, though not as it was originally presented by a group of local middle-school students.

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Carbondale Middle School ninth-graders Vanessa Leon, Jessica Koller, Keiry Lopez and Cassidy Meyer — all members of a CMS organization known as The Issues Club — submitted an original resolution to the BOT early in the summer. But the trustees, at a meeting in July, opted to delegate Trustee Erica Sparhawk and Mayor Dan Richardson to rework some of the language and bring it back for consideration.

The resolution, which is being translated into Spanish for publication by area media outlets, declares that the town “recognizes the importance of all persons in the community, regardless of immigration status,” and clarifies that the town “supports a clear path for immigrants to legally live, work and become citizens of the United States.”

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In its action clauses, the resolution holds that “no town employee shall inquire into a person’s immigration status unless such inquire directly relates to a service request or the information is required to provide a Town service,” including interaction with the police.

The resolution also provides that “no town employee shall take action solely based on a person’s immigration status” and that no town department can unilaterally agree to partner with federal immigration authorities without first getting approval from the trustees.

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That provision apparently is an effort to distance the town from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which has sought to enlist the help local police in various regions to track down or arrest immigrants deemed to be in violation of federal laws.

The resolution provides for enactment of an “outreach program” to the local immigrant community to increase that community’s interaction with officialdom on various levels, and for the Carbondale Police Department to designate one of its officers as the official public relations liaison with the immigrant community.

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The resolution also explicitly notes that its provisions do not restrict the town from working with ICE, either to exchange information or in any other capacity, or with any other federal agency.

Some trustees referred back to the original document proposed by the students, and the revised version, as a clear indication of the town’s interest in, and favorable attitudes toward the local immigrant population.

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“The core purpose of this is to send a message,” said Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, explaining that the town government has no intention of seeing its police become an arm of ICE.

The revisions, including one made at Tuesday’s meeting aimed at defining the town’s support for immigration reform in general, were needed for clarity’s sake, said Trustee Frosty Merriott.

It was Merriott who suggested the latest revision, in order to avoid what he felt were unclear generalizations about “comprehensive immigration reform” that did not specifically mention electronic verification policies for allegedly illegal immigrants, or the need to secure the U.S. national border against illegal immigration.

“It’s a bigger discussion (than the original wording), and I would really like to ensure that our middle school students understand that,” he said.

As the trustee discussion wound down, Richardson noted that “this is a complex issue,” and one he admitted he did not completely understand earlier in the summer.

“I think what we were asked (by the students) was to pass a feel-good document … to make some of our residents feel comfortable,” the mayor said.

With the reworked language, he continued, “there are some tangible action items” that add to his own comfort level with the resolution.

“We’re about public safety, and not immigration status,” he pledged.

Da bears

The trustees, in addition to immigration, spent considerable time talking about the summer’s invasion of Carbondale by a dozen or more bears seeking food in local dumpsters and trash cans.

Talking with Parks and Wildlife officer John Groves, the trustees acknowledged that there are deficiencies in the town’s efforts to get residents to “bear-proof” their trash containers, and discussed ways to make the town’s trash more secure and less attractive to hungry bears.

“We’re going to be digging into the trash thing,” said Town Manager Jay Harrington in a telephone interview on Aug. 23, referring to the need to enforce the bear-resistant container law as well as possibly reviving the BOT’s unsuccessful effort to find a way to consolidate the local trash-hauling regime to reduce the noise and bother of having trucks from four different haulers on the local streets throughout the week.

Harrington confirmed that the trustees are likely to be talking about bear-proof trash cans as well as about the trash-hauling situation during this fall’s budget deliberations.

In other action, the trustees:

• Witnessed the swearing-in of new Trustee Luis Yllanes, who was appointed to fill out the term of departed trustee Katrina Byars;

• Approved a change to the municipal code to permit the presence of goats in town this summer, part of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s second summer of using goats instead of chemicals to control weeds along the Rio Grande Trail.

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