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Spearman says Denver should resume work with immigration agents

Mayoral candidate Kwame Spearman acknowledged a lack of familiarity with the issue of the city’s immigration policies but wants Denver to start working with ICE.


One candidate for Denver mayor says the city should restart collaboration with immigration officials if possible. 

Kwame Spearman, CEO of Tattered Cover bookstores and one of the 17 candidates for mayor, made the comment Thursday on conservative talk radio station KNUS. 

Spearman also suggested if agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can’t easily arrest unauthorized immigrants working in Denver, that those immigrants commuting to and from homes in the suburbs presented “opportunities for us to apply the letter of the law.” 

Spearman’s stance on immigration, like much of his campaign, echoes a strict law-and-order message putting him at odds with many Denver Democrats. Only one of the 17 candidates in Denver’s mayoral race, which is nonpartisan, is a registered Republican. 

In 2017, Denver City Council unanimously passed the Denver Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act, limiting information sharing with immigration agents, including by law enforcement. Mayor Michael Hancock backed the move and separately created a legal defense fund for immigrants. 

Denver’s welcoming stance toward immigrants, regardless of legal status, dates to a largely symbolic order by former Mayor Wellington Webb in 1998. 

In recent years, Hancock has said he is comfortable with the label “sanctuary city” to describe Denver’s policies, and the city hung an enormous banner on City Hall proclaiming the city’s love of immigrants. 

An influx of asylum seekers from Venezuela in December 2022 and January 2023 tested the city’s commitment to that pledge. The City of Denver converted recreation centers to temporary emergency shelters and mounted a city-wide response to welcome, shelter, feed, clothe, and prepare migrants for long-term self-sufficiency. 

Spearman acknowledged a lack of familiarity with the issue of the city’s immigration policies. 

“I’m not well-versed enough in the Xs and Os of the rules of sanctuary city,” he said. 

The term “sanctuary city” is not a legal term, but loosely refers to jurisdictions that formalize protections for people in the country without documentation. 

Spearman said that if a restriction on communication between local law enforcement and immigration agents “is not a pillar under being a sanctuary city, then the communication should occur.” 

Immigrants working in Denver while living in surrounding jurisdictions could be targeted for detention near their homes, Spearman said. 

“Around the metro area, there are opportunities for that cooperation between the suburban cities and the counties with the federal government,” he said.

“What we see is typically that [Denver] is not the city where people who are here illegally are necessarily living,” Spearman said, adding that immigrants residing outside Denver provide, “opportunities for us to apply the letter of the law.” 

The comments drew sharp rebukes from some prominent Democrats. 

“The more Kwame speaks, the more I see how deeply unqualified, uneducated about issues and just plain cruel he is,” former State Rep. Susan Lontine wrote on social media. 

State Sen. Julie Gonzales called Spearman’s views “out of step with Denver values” and “disqualifying.” 

Shad Murib, a longtime Democratic staffer currently running for chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, echoed Gonzales’ comments. 

“This isn’t just an ineffective policy for a leader to push on local law enforcement, it’s also immoral, harmful to immigrants, and disqualifying,” Murib wrote on social media Thursday. 

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