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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Durango Herald Online The city of Durango re-affirmed it won't use city resources to identify or turn over illegal immigrants

Durango Herald Online
The city of Durango re-affirmed it won't use city resources to identify or turn over illegal immigrants to federal officials unless they commit crimes, under a resolution passed Tuesday.

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution affirming all residents, regardless of immigration status, will be treated equally, fairly and with respect. The resolution does not allow the city to override state or federal immigration laws, but does support the Durango Police Department's practice of not reporting undocumented immigrants to immigration authorities unless they have been arrested for a crime.

Thirty or so Hispanic men, women and children, and several supporters, filled City Council Chambers to back the resolution and broke into cheers and applause when it passed. Olivia Donaji-Lopez, program director of Los CompaƱeros, proposed the resolution and thanked the council for "taking a broader look at immigration and at our community. We are very grateful."

Donaji-Lopez and other immigrant advocates had said that many people, both legal and illegal immigrants, are reluctant to call police or take advantage of other government services for fear of being deported. Under this resolution, city resources and employees are explicitly prevented from being used to seek out, report or deport undocumented residents.

One Mancos woman denounced the resolution as encouraging lawbreaking, indicating that certain people are above the law. "These people are here illegally, they come here and work at lower wages, driving wages down and use a large percentage of social services," Peggy Maloney said. She said a large number of immigrants will now want to come to Durango. The crowd was silent while she sat down and her companion clapped briefly. They left shortly after.

Councilor Sidny Zink said she hesitated to support the resolution because "it doesn't really change anything, and because of possible inferences that will be made if it's adopted."

But Zink eventually sided with supporters, saying the resolution expressed genuine concern for human rights.

Zadik Lopez, a Farmington high school teacher who came to the United States from Honduras in 1980, said the resolution will create much-needed unity between local police and the immigrant community.

"A lot of us feel afraid of being confronted by the police, even just going outside, whether we are illegal or not."

This resolution is about respecting everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike, he said.

Mayor Joe Colgan called it "an affirmation of the policy we have now," and said the city is not trying to get in the way of enforcement of immigration law.

Local law-enforcement officers are not required to seek out or report suspected illegal immigrants unless they are arrested for commission of a crime. Entering the United States without proper documentation is a civil, not criminal, offense.

Sgt. Tony Archuleta, with the Durango Police Department, said the only time city police officers contact the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) is when they arrest someone who doesn't have immigrant documentation. Otherwise, police don't ask for papers and will not report suspected illegal immigrants unless they've committed a crime.

"The only time we're concerned is if we arrested them," he said. Archuleta serves as a police interpreter for Spanish-speaking people, and said no one should be afraid to report a crime. "We try to show we are here to help, no matter where they're from or if they've been a victim of a crime; we provide the best police service we can to everyone," he said.

Reach Staff WriterLindsay Nelson here .

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