On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the chair of the Colorado Pikes Peak Region Green Party, Karyna Lemus—joined by a dozen activists and supporters, including former Colorado College students—spoke about the importance of declaring Colorado Springs a sanctuary city.
In sanctuary cities, undocumented immigrants are protected from arrest due to immigration status within the city, provided they do not have an outstanding warrant. Denver functions as a de facto sanctuary city, meaning that although no official legislation defines its status as a sanctuary city, Mayor Hancock has spoken on the inclusivity of the city and indicated he is unwilling to take action on behalf of federal law enforcement.
In City Hall, community members expressed their support for declaring Colorado Springs a sanctuary city. “I am here today because I believe that Colorado Springs should be a city that everyone feels welcome and safe in,” said community member Jacob Foreman. “We have to create an environment where citizens feel comfortable with the police department and have a mutual trust with the police department. Enacting a sanctuary city status would empower people in immigrant police forces to help decrease crime rates.” Foreman cited Olympic values, saying that Colorado Springs, as the Olympic City, should welcome people of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds.
Lemus requested support for making Colorado Springs a sanctuary city. “The recent escalation in deportations and inhumane immigration policies being executed require that our city acts quickly and decisively to protect some of the most vulnerable and hidden members of our community,” she said. “This is not the time for apathy or complacency. We must have the courage to choose compassion over the politics of fear.”
“We’ve had a lot of people write to us and tell us they support us, but they just can’t be too vocal about it because of their job or just because of the local political climate with this being a more conservative city,” Lemus shared after the City Council meeting. “Some people aren’t so open to speaking out; but I do see a lot of support. I think there’s a lot of compassion in our community and a lot of people who understand that we cannot just break families apart.” Lemus spoke to the importance of representing the voices of people who either cannot come to meetings during the work day or do not feel comfortable revealing their undocumented status. “We’re here to give them a voice, we know that they can’t be here because they’re afraid. I know that the fear is very real,” she said.
Lemus also emphasized the responsibility of American citizens to their fellow humans. “They’re human beings,” she said. “Many of them are escaping violence and extreme poverty that has been caused by neoliberalism and policies that have been executed by this country, so we can’t just slam our doors in the faces of those who need us. If they’re coming after them, you know, we have to put our bodies on the line. Those of us who are citizens should step up and protect those who are not.”
Council members received the sanctuary city proposal from Lemus on Feb. 8. Councilwoman Jill Gaebler has responded saying she may consider the issue after the election. Lemus stated that the potential political ramifications of supporting sanctuary city status in a conservative community prevents local politicians from publicly sponsoring the proposal. Direct interaction between the community and its representatives through platforms like the City Council meetings, however can demonstrate community support for such initiatives. “I’m hoping that after hearing us today, and knowing that there is support for this, that they’ll be willing to look into it and consider it,” said Lemus.
According to Lemus, gaining official support from the City Council is not the only way to make Colorado Springs safer for undocumented immigrants. “I want to brainstorm with other community members and leaders in the coming weeks and months to talk about other methods that we can take,” she said. “Possibly sanctuary in churches or even in peoples’ homes. Possibly direct action, you know. We haven’t heard of an escalation of deportations here locally, yet, but we want to be able to support [residents who are undocumented]. That’s a conversation that we’ll be having moving forward.”
The Colorado Springs City Council meetings take place every other Tuesday afternoon at the Colorado Springs City Hall. Citizens can sign up to talk for up to three minutes on any topic they are on.