Colorado Supreme Court Strikes Down State Human Smuggling Law

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Colorado’s highest court struck down Tuesday a state law that targets the smuggling of illegal immigrants, ruling that enforcing immigration-related laws is the federal government’s responsibility.

In a 4-3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court said federal immigration law takes precedence over state attempts to implement their own versions of immigration laws.

At issue was a 2006 Colorado law that made it a felony to accept payment “for the purpose of assisting another person to enter, remain in, or travel through the United States or the state of Colorado in violation of immigration laws.”

The court’s decision, authored by Justice Richard Gabriel, found that a similar federal statute preempted the Colorado law. Gabriel based his opinion on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States, which held that federal law preempted certain provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration statute.

Gabriel argued that Colorado’s anti-smuggling law usurped the federal government’s prerogative to establish a uniform standard of immigration enforcement.

“The Colorado statute disrupts Congress’s objective of creating a uniform scheme of punishment because some smuggling activities involving unauthorized aliens are now punishable in Colorado but not elsewhere,” he wrote.

Dissenting justices disputed the court’s logic, noting that the federal immigrant smuggling statute is more narrowly worded than the Colorado law. Federal law requires prosecutors to prove that people being smuggled are present in the country illegally, while Colorado’s version only requires the government to show that smugglers thought they were transporting illegal aliens, regardless of their actual immigration status.

“The majority … misses the point of Colorado’s human smuggling statute, which is to protect, not punish, the passengers of human smuggling operations regardless of their immigration status,” wrote Justice Allison Eid.

The court’s ruling against the smuggling statute is the latest development precluding local authorities in Colorado from enforcing immigration law. Last month, Denver enacted a sanctuary city ordinance last that prevents city officials from honoring immigration detention requests or allowing immigration agents to access jails without a warrant. (RELATED: Unanimous Vote Makes Denver America’s Newest Sanctuary City)

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Colorado’s human smuggling law was not designed to interfere with federal immigration policy, unlike some other state laws that have been struck down by courts,” Coffman said in a statement, according to the Denver Post. “Our laws were enacted to serve the important purpose of protecting and vindicating the innocent victims of serious crimes.”

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