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City Council passes immigration defense fund ordinance

A sign that reads "City of Fort Collins."
The City Hall Meeting Tuesday night had many parts. There was an opportunity for citizen participation, discussion of prospective construction on East Prospect Road and an appeal (Erica Giesenhagen | Collegian).

The City of Fort Collins Ordinance No. 64 (“Appropriating Prior Year Reserves for a Municipal Immigration Legal Fund Pilot Program”) was adopted on first reading with a vote of 4-3 during the June 15 City Council meeting. 

Ordinance No. 64 seeks to establish a pilot program that would provide a grant of $250,000 toward providing free legal services to undocumented citizens in need. The money would come from the prior year’s reserve funds of the city and would last 18 months until reevaluation of the success of the program.

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Fort Collins City Council chambers were filled with community members late into the night, as many people wanted their voices heard on the legal defense fund.

“Our key findings indicate that there is a high demand for immigration services in Fort Collins and very limited availability,” said Leo Escalante, a senior public engagement specialist for the City of Fort Collins who conducted research and gave part of the presentation on the ordinance. 

Cost is the main barrier to accessing legal services, and there are currently 4,500 Fort Collins residents in need of legal services and 83 residents in Larimer county who are in detention centers facing the threat of deportation with no legal representation, Escalante said. 

Immigration is an issue that has needed to be fixed at the federal level for decades.” -Councilmember Tricia Canonico

Most residents who attended recognize the crisis and the need within the community, but not all agree on how Fort Collins should be involved in helping the crisis.

Several community members made arguments against the fund, including concerns that the fund did not go through the due process of competitive budget allocation and that immigration is an issue bigger than Fort Collins that should be handled at the federal level.

“I can’t support this fund, things need to change at the national level,” Councilmember Shirley Peel of district 4 said. “This is their responsibility to fix it instead of wasting valuable resources at the local level.”

According to Peel, she has lived on the border for eight years and has seen firsthand the issues related to immigration, but she does not see this as the sustainable solution. 

Proponents of the fund identified the need to help immigrants in the Fort Collins community and addressed how much undocumented immigrants truly contribute to the economy and infrastructures. 

“It doesn’t have to be one or the other; we can support immigrants at the local and at the federal level,” said Patricia Miller, executive director at Alianza NORCO, the nonprofit that has been spearheading the push for the immigration defense fund since last September.

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After hours of heavy deliberation, the council took the final vote, passing the ordinance on first reading 4-3 with opposition from councilmembers Peel, Susan Gutowsky and Kelly Ohlson

The ordinance needs to pass on second reading to become law, and many specifics of the ordinance are anticipated to have future amendments. 

“Immigration is an issue that has needed to be fixed at the federal level for decades, and since the federal government has failed us, it’s time to initiate change at the local level,” Councilmember Tricia Canonico from district 3 said.

Isaiah Dennings can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @isaiah_dennings.

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