Alamosa County non-sanctuary resolution dies after extensive public comment

Father Carlos Alvarez with Sacred Heart Church in Alamosa, addressed the Alamosa County Board of Supervisors on March 27 about a proposed resolution to declare the county a non-sanctuary county. Courier photo by John Waters

"We missed the mark with the wording of this resolution." Alamosa County Commissioner Vern Heersink."

ALAMOSA — Following more than an hour of public comments largely in opposition, a controversial "Resolution Declaring Alamosa County a Non-Sanctuary County” crafted by Alamosa County commissioners died when none of the three commissioners made a motion to take it to a vote.

The resolution was created to “send the message” that, due to a lack of resources, the county “will not open shelters or emergency services to uninvited migrants and or illegal immigrants that may arrive in unincorporated Alamosa County.”

About 90 members of the community attended the meeting on Wednesday morning, either in person or on Zoom. Members of the public were allowed 3 minutes to state their opinion. Some became emotional, and nearly all took the entire amount of time allowed. Over 20 people spoke against the resolution and two spoke in favor.

At the beginning of the meeting, Commissioner Vern Heersink recommended deletion of two points in the current resolution: one, citing “significant public health and safety risk to the community posed by illegal immigrants,” and, the second, “the cascading impacts relocation of migrants from Denver,” that “pose a risk to Alamosa County.”  

Heersink also advocated for a significantly shorter resolution.

"I would also be in favor of a very short resolution that basically says, ‘Alamosa County does not have resources and therefore we are not a sanctuary county,’” he said. Heersink further asked that the reference to unreimbursed care by SLV Regional Hospital be removed.

Commissioner Lori Laske said, "The purpose of this is to notify other entities in the state of Colorado that we do not have the additional resources for the overflow to provide. The title [of the resolution] is a little misleading because that is not the intent of it, the intent as we've heard is there is the potential for overflow from Arapaho, Denver, Aurora, Boulder, Jefferson County and they're looking for places and we want to just be very transparent that we're struggling with resources."

When, per protocol, the public was allowed to comment, there was frequent mention of the resolution being “divisive”, “racist”, “unwelcoming” and contrary to what Alamosa aspires to be.

Former Alamosa City Council Member Charlie Griego told the commissioners, "To turn people away is wrong. This week we are celebrating Holy Week, and our Lord Jesus Christ, tells us to love each other and take care of each other and not to fight each other."

Father Carlos Alverez spoke of his family history, "a story unfortunately of racism and discrimination that led to the disunity of the family." Alvarez continued, "We have to look at the law of unintended consequences by making this resolution and joining other counties and cities. I think the unintended consequences would say to our community of workers from Mexico, our community of workers from Guatemala who are in the San Luis Valley, 'You are here, but you are not really welcome. When we needed you and your work, you were fine, but now that things are difficult you are not welcome.'

“I know that is not the intent of the resolution,” he continued, “the intent of the resolution is to protect all of us taxpayers and all of us who live here and love the San Luis Valley… as Charlie [Griego] mentioned, this is Holy Week and I think of Saint Matthew's gospel, 'when I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked, you clothed me." 

“Why,” asked Dr. Helen Sigmond, former Alamosa County Commissioner. “What are you doing this for? This is unnecessary.”

“I have lived in Alamosa for 45 years,” said Flora Archuleta, executive director of SLV Immigrant Resource Services. “I am angry and embarrassed to witness that Alamosa County is declaring on paper that they are no longer a welcoming county,”

Rev. Kim Nipple, who spoke in favor of the motion said, "I am here in support of this resolution…when I look at this resolution and listen to the statistics that have been given, I think of the people who are here who need help. I think of the people who are asking for public assistance who can't survive without it, I think of the people who are here who are desperate for help in our community."

At the conclusion of public comment, Heersink said, "Our intent of this resolution was not received as we thought it would be. Our intent was strictly financial and resources position. We missed the mark with the wording of this resolution. Our intent was certainly not received as we had hoped."

Laske said, "I can tell you from my heart, my intent was to be good to this community and to take care of the community and make sure we could do for all of our people who are here right now as opposed to increasing that and maybe not being able to take care of anybody. That did not come through in the resolution."

Shortly before voting on the matter, Commissioner Heersink said, "It is my feeling that no matter what we do to this resolution, the intent is not going to be received as we want it. I feel the voices here and some of the coverage that we have gotten that we wanted to send to other communities, that we are non-sanctuary, we don't have resources to facilitate folks and an influx. That message has been sent and I would encourage us to just let it lie."

Commissioner Arlan Van Ry offered, "I think the statement has been made that we are financially unable to take an influx, a few people here and there, we can definitely take, and we welcome all people to the San Luis Valley."

Lakse then proceeded to call for a motion to approve Resolution, amended Resolution 24-G-3. Not hearing a motion, it dies."

The audience responded to the motion dying with applause.

After the meeting, Alamosa resident Lia Carpio told the Valley Courier, “I'm glad the commissioners decided to do the right thing and appreciate that they took into account what they heard from the community,"

Flora Archuleta said, "I am pleased and so happy with the commissioners' decision. I'm thankful that the community came out in support of immigrants and I was happy to hear lots of people sharing their thoughts. I'm very glad the commissioners were listening."

Commissioner Laske told the Valley Courier there are no plans to reintroduce the motion.

“We, the San Luis Valley Emergency Managers from the San Luis Valley, have been working on a emergency response plan for refugees/southwest border migrants influx. The major points to the plan is this is a very temporary response to assist in the life sustaining needs to help the individuals continue to find their final destination. The intent is to make a very temporary shelter, 24-48 hours so they will not freeze, get them set up with resources and help assist them to travel to their final destination.

“We do not have the adequate resources, staffing or finances to have a sustained response.

“The plan is in final development with a meeting with our local partners on Monday and we hope to have a presentation to each of our local Commissioners in the next two weeks according to a statement from Alamosa County Emergency Manager Eric Treinen,” she said.

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