Colorado lawmakers have introduced several bills this session meant to shield immigrants from being arrested over civil immigration violations — measures that would ban state agencies from sharing personal information with federal agencies and make it illegal to extort someone over their immigration status.

Democrats also want to strip derogatory language from a state law about immigrants working in the country without legal permission (the bill passed the House and awaits a vote in a Senate committee) and help immigrants who are living in the the country without legal permission get professional licenses and public benefits as well as access to contraceptives.

“Our work this year is to remove barriers and advance equity,” said Denver Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales, who is sponsoring several of these bills. “And we know that immigrants and refugees, low-income workers, Black and brown Coloradans have been disproportionately impacted, or more likely to be on the front lines working in the midst of this pandemic and multiple crises.”

Here are details on four bills that would make significant changes to how the state interacts with immigrants who are living in the U.S. without legal permission.

Protecting personal information

This week, a committee voted to send to the Senate floor a bill that would prevent state agencies from sharing personal information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that could be used against them.

The issue is a priority bill for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. The group confirmed through a Colorado Open Records Request last year that the state DMV and ICE were sharing information about immigrants. Colorado passed a law in 2013 that allowed immigrants who are living in the country without legal permission to get driver’s licenses or ID cards, about 150,000 of which have been issued.

Although the DMV has implemented some changes since the CORA request, Gonzales said it needs to become law.

If passed and signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the bill would expand an executive order the governor issued during the pandemic to limit data sharing with ICE except as required by state or federal law and to track ICE’s requests.

Republicans on the Senate State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted against the bill this week — except for GOP Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa.

An ICE spokesperson said the agency could not comment on pending legislation, but the agency has defended partnerships with local law enforcement for immigration enforcement.

Legal defense fund

Under a bill that has been introduced but has not yet had a hearing, the state Department of Human Services would provide grants to nonprofits that would help immigrants who can’t otherwise afford it with legal assistance.

Bill sponsor Rep. Naquetta Ricks, an Aurora Democrat, said her family’s arrival in the United States would have gone smoother had they had access to legal representation. Ricks, who was 13 at the time, and her family escaped a bloody military coup in 1980 in Liberia (though her mother’s fiance, a government official, was kidnapped and killed). Ricks’ family applied for asylum in the U.S. and was initially denied.

“Even though we had come through this devastating trauma, we still weren’t able to prove our case, and had we had an attorney, I think that would have made such a big difference in our ability to defend ourselves,” she said.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, immigrants who had legal representation were 10 times more likely to win their immigration cases and 3.5 times more likely to be released from detention on bond.

The majority of the money for the statewide defense fund would come from private donations and matching funding from nonprofits like the Vera Institute of Justice, bill co-sponsor Democratic Rep. Kerry Tipper of Lakewood.

“Ultimately, at its core, it’s a bill about justice about equity and about ensuring that someone who has legal rights in this country can vindicate those legal rights, and that they’re able to do that, regardless of their income or anything else,” Tipper said.

At least six other states have similar funds. Denver launched its own legal defense fund in 2018. Earlier this year, Aurora rejected a similar effort.