DENVER – With unease around the nation as campaign promises from President Donald Trump begin to materialize, Democratic lawmakers in Colorado took steps Thursday to ensure the state does not repeat a dark chapter in its history: the internment of American citizens based on ethnicity.
House Bill 1230, which would prohibit the use of state lands or resources for a number of discriminatory actions that would use race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation or immigration status, was passed by the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4 party-line vote. Republicans opposed the measure because of constitutionality concerns.
Included on the list of prohibited actions were: placement in internment camps; placing of physical or electronic identifying markers; and creation of a registry or providing demographic information to the federal government without determining it is going to be used for legal and constitutional purposes.
“This is an historic bill. It’s never been attempted in any state legislature ever,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton and prime sponsor of the bill.
The bill has been dubbed the Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act after the former governor of Colorado who protested the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Among those who spoke in favor of the bill was Jo Ann Fujioka, who was among the Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps under an executive order.
“This act shows that Colorado will not sit by idly waiting to see what other executive orders are signed by President Trump, but rather will pre-emptively protect the rights of all citizens,” Fujioka said.
Fujioka relayed to the committee the story of her family’s experience in 1942 and the national fear that led to internment of American citizens.
The atmosphere of fear during World War II was cited as a motivating factor behind the bill.
“There have been naysayers who say ‘this bill isn’t necessary or that those things could never happen in America,’ and it’s clear that there was a fear then and there is a fear now,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora and one of the 33 House Democrats who co-sponsored the bill.
Of the 32 individuals signed up to testify on HB 1230 Thursday, only one was opposed to the bill.
Charlene Hardcastle, who moved to Denver for retirement, said she had concerns with the message the bill might send to criminals who also are illegal immigrants.
“I think it will give us the reputation of being a sanctuary state, even though the way you described it would not prevent ICE from doing their job,” Hardcastle said.
The reputation could draw illegal immigrant criminals to the state and lead to an increase in criminal activity, she said.
The bill also drew opposition from Republicans on the committee.
Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, said he agreed on the need to be on the lookout for federal overreach, but he had concerns over the constitutional validity of the bill.
“Because of the reference to immigration status in the bill, that raises some constitutional issues under the Arizona v. United States case,” Wist said.
That case was a response to an attempt by the state of Arizona to pass its own law on immigration that was overturned on the grounds that immigration laws are under the purview of the federal government.
Salazar said the case actually supported the bill because HB 1230 would not have the state control immigration laws. Rather, the state could step away from enforcement and leave it in the hands of the federal government.
But the clause around immigration was a sticking point for Republicans on the committee and, while Democrats do not need GOP support to pass HB 1230 through the House, they will need it for the measure to pass the Senate and go into law.