Colorado Supreme Court to Weigh Legality of Law Criminalizing Daily Interactions with Undocumented Immigrants

Download the Colorado Supreme Court’s
decision in this case, issued Oct. 10, 2017
May 3, 2016

Juan Gastelum, [email protected], 213-375-3149, or
Adela de la Torre, [email protected], 202-385-1275

Colorado Supreme Court to Weigh Legality of Law Criminalizing Daily Interactions with Undocumented Immigrants

National Immigration Law Center to argue on behalf of petitioner

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court on Thursday will hear oral arguments in a case that could determine the fate of the state’s unconstitutional law that criminalizes those who engage in daily interactions with undocumented immigrants. Seven justices will review an appellate court decision in Fuentes-Espinoza v. Colorado, which has brought into question whether the state statute is preempted by federal law.

National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Nicholas Espíritu will be among those to present arguments on behalf of Mr. Fuentes-Espinoza, a man who was prosecuted under the state statute.

“This unconstitutional law was the product of ill-intentioned efforts to force Colorado into the business of immigration enforcement,” Espíritu said. “The courts have made it clear that only the federal government has the power to criminalize and prosecute immigration-related offenses, and that states have no authority in this area. Beyond this law’s fatal legal flaws, it is also bad policy to turn cab drivers and other members of our communities into de facto immigration agents. Laws like this open up the door to discrimination and other unnecessary ills.”

Colorado’s law, passed in 2006, made it a felony to engage in a wide variety of activities with noncitizens who lack legal status. The law mirrors anti-immigrant statutes in seven states that have been enjoined or struck down by federal courts across the country in the past five years.

Just this month, a federal judge in Texas blocked a nearly identical provision in the state’s omnibus border-security bill, finding that the state has no authority to create its own immigration law, and upholding the longstanding principle that such authority is exclusively federal.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the federal government’s sole jurisdiction over immigration matters in the 2012 case involving Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. In that case, the nation’s highest court made clear that the states have a very limited role in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and rejected key portions of the state law. The National Immigration Law Center filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court.

“It is troubling that Colorado continues to have this law on the books when so many others just like it—in Arizona, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas—have been declared unlawful,” said Julien Ross, executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. “Colorado has made great strides in the last decade to be a more welcoming and thriving state by repealing other anti-immigrant laws. Removing this remaining harmful law will further advance trust and dignity for all Coloradans.”

The National Immigration Law Center, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, and South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in support of Fuentes-Espinoza in August 2014. The National Immigration Law Center has also been involved in fighting back similar anti-immigrant legislation in several states, including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah.


NOTE: The Colorado Supreme Court issued a decision in this case on Oct. 10, 2017. The advance sheet headnote included with the decision states:

This case requires the supreme court to determine whether Colorado’s human smuggling statute, section 18-13-128, C.R.S. (2017), is preempted by the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101–1537 (2017) (“INA”). The supreme court concludes that the INA preempts section 18-13-128 under the doctrines of both field and conflict preemption [emphasis added].