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Afternoon Headlines June 21, 2017

Posted: June 21, 2017 at 5:37 pm by , in Headlines

A national movement of clergy in the Trump-era offering their churches as safe harbors for immigrants has taken hold in Colorado’s second largest city— and one of its more conservative ones.

On Monday, under the vaulted ceilings of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in a leafy downtown neighborhood of Colorado Springs, a new coalition of immigrants rights activists christened the place as the first sanctuary church in the area.

If an immigrant who is in the country illegally fears deportation, he or she now can seek refuge in the church in the hope that immigration officials won’t try to barge in. While All Souls is the only church publicly offering a physical sanctuary in the Springs, three other congregations in the city have linked arms to support it.

They are the First United Methodist Church, the First Congregational Church – United Church of Christ, and Colorado Springs Friends Meeting, a Quaker organization.

“We are troubled that the need for such a coalition even exists,” said Candace Datz, who directs a youth and adult ministry at the First Congregational Church. The coalition, she said, will be uncompromising in its commitment to immigrants and their families during a time of what she called “racist and exclusive immigration laws and policies.”

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it is improper for anyone to knowingly harbor an undocumented immigrant “in any place, including any building.”

But churches have become sanctuaries for immigrants who fear deportation because of a 2011 ICE policy that designated churches, schools and healthcare centers, among others, as “sensitive locations,” where agents are unlikely to make arrests.

But, “it’s policy, it’s not law,” said Alex McShiras, an immigration attorney at the Joseph Law firm in Colorado Springs. McShiras also said he had personal assurances from the ICE field office director in Colorado that agency agents are respecting the current policy.

“Despite who is president, despite who is the head of DHS or the head of ICE in Washington, D.C., he is the field office director in Colorado that covers the entire area of Colorado,” McShiras said. “He says that that is still what they’re doing and they’re not going to change that.”

The Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to revise its student discipline policy to limit suspensions and expulsions of preschool through third-grade students.

Although some Denver Public Schools teachers and staff expressed concern about receiving too little district support in handling extreme behavior from young students, board members spoke of the importance of disrupting the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

“We are telling our students they are here in school to learn and that’s where we want them to be,” said board member Rachele Espiritu.

Advocates say the policy changes, which will take effect for the coming school year, put DPS on the forefront of efforts nationwide to change early childhood discipline practices and address the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions on young boys of color.

They also say removing kids from school for disruptive or aggressive behavior results in lost learning time, contributes to long-term school disengagement and doesn’t work to change behavior.

The approval of the policy changes comes just two months after legislation that would have established similar suspension and expulsion limits statewide died in a Republican-controlled Senate committee.

DPS officials say $11 million from a recent voter-approved tax measure is earmarked to help schools support students’ mental health. On average, district-run elementary schools will receive $47,000 from that pot next year.

The Colorado Energy Office, which has promoted renewable energy in Colorado for the past decade, faces a severe cutback in its operations beginning next week.

That’s because the state’s Joint Budget Committee refused on Tuesday to approve a request from the governor to allow the office to operate for another year.

The energy office became a tussle between Senate Republicans and House Democrats during the recently concluded legislative session.

Republicans wanted the office’s mission to shift toward promotion of fossil fuels and to cut back on its promotion of renewables. But legislation to make those changes died on the last day of the session.

As a result, the office staff would be cut back from 24 to eight as of July 1, although Gov. John Hickenlooper has pledged to find a way to fund it for another year. He held to that promise yesterday.

The office will still be in charge of managing federal dollars for a low-income weatherization program as well as operating the state’s natural gas charging stations.

For more on these and other stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.