Denver Sanctuary City Executive Order 116 announced - Mayor Webb at Rosalindas

by Bruce Finley
Denver Post
March 8, 1998

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb walked resolutely into a Mexican restaurant Saturday, questioned the humanity of federal immigration rules and ordered his own policy - estimated to cost Denver taxpayers up to $1 million a year.

And Webb says he'll urge other cities to adopt similar policies.

"I'm taking my increased stature in the U.S. Conference of Mayors and other organizations to carry this message around the country," Webb said. "We (mayors) are stronger collectively than as individuals."

Other mayors are praising immigrants publicly as immigrants become more and more prevalent in the nation's workforce....

The policy Webb announced Saturday - which spells out Denver's anti-discrimination stance toward immigrants - is meant to improve on federal policy carried out by the U.S. Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Though he supports laws against illegal immigration, Webb said federal policy has led to intolerable situations for immigrants in cities such as Denver. He referred to last year's case of a Guatemalan woman separated from her newborn baby to comply with a tangle of deadlines that later were changed - too late for the woman.

"I don't know what (the INS) should do," Webb said. "But I know what they shouldn't do. They shouldn't be separating a mother from a child."

Webb's Executive Order No. 116 does the following:

* Salutes and welcomes immigrants. * Asserts that federal policy "unfairly impacts many of Denver's children, senior citizens and disabled residents." * Declares Denver's strong opposition to federal distinctions between legal immigrants and commits city officials "to the delivery of services to all of its residents." * Vows that the city will back legal rights of all residents in Denver, adding that Webb will urge businesses, schools, hospitals and universities to do the same.

"The mayor feels federal welfare reform legislation unfairly targets newly arrived legal immigrants," said Shepard Nevel, Webb's director of policy.

The reforms bar legal immigrants who arrive after August 1996 from receiving federal welfare benefits.

"One of the things we're doing is providing food vouchers with state dollars to legal immigrants who are no longer eligible for food stamps," Nevel said. Denver officials also are providing job training, some medical care and housing assistance.

The cost of all this had not been determined. Kitty Pring, a senior Denver Department of Social Services official, estimated late Saturday the cost would be no more than $1 million a year, mostly out of a $550 million social services budget.

In Washington, D.C., INS officials said they had no problem with Webb's policy as long as it doesn't clash with federal law.

"It's understandable that Mayor Webb and the mayors of other large cities throughout the United States would become more active on immigration,'' INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said.

"They should. Major cities are the prime locations for settlement of both legal and illegal immigrants."

As snowflakes fell faintly across Denver, Webb made his announcement flanked by a group of immigrants from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America. They gathered at Rosalinda's Mexican Cafe in west Denver - a restaurant run by Mexican immigrants Rosalinda, Virgilio and Oscar Aguirre....

For Webb, the testimony reinforced his point that immigrants enrich American life.

His policy announcement comes amid intensifying debate about immigration nationwide.

Some 550,000 members of the Sierra Club - including 13,000 in Colorado - are weighing whether to advocate restrictions on immigration to reduce pressure on environmental resources.

Some economists contend immigrants - the 1990 U.S. Census counted 35,000 in Denver - hold down wages and add to social services bills. Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm supports a 50 percent reduction of legal immigration to help stabilize the growing U.S. population.

"The evidence is now clear that immigration hurts our own poor," Lamm wrote in a statement last week. "We shall have to make some hard decisions on immigration. How many? How chosen?"...

On Saturday, Webb acknowledged the INS efforts. "We should give the INS the same technological capability as the IRS," he suggested.

But he and his staff believe immigration overall results in a net gain to U.S. taxpayers. And beyond the bottom line, Webb said, Americans ought to do the right thing.