Denver sets high bar for hate crimes, lowers it for panhandling, breaking park curfew ...


… urinating in public and other such “quality of life” offenses. Which is to say they diminish quality of life — but not enough, in the eyes of Denver’s City Council, to warrant sending someone packing to his native land over a violation.

Denverite’s Erica Meltzer reports the changes represent a sweeping sentencing reform of the city’s criminal code by Denver’s political leadership. One reason for the move, backed by the City Council and Mayor Michael Hancock, was to lower trip wires sending homeless people to jail. Another aim (more attuned to the news cycle) is to make it harder for federal authorities to roust foreign-born residents, here legally, amid the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Meltzer explains that lighter sentences translate to a lower risk of deportation:

The maximum sentence for a crime is a factor in deportation proceedings. Legal non-citizen residents convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” with a maximum sentence of 365 days or more can be deported, even if they are sentenced to much less than the maximum. Having one of these offenses on their record can also affect the ability of visa holders to obtain residency.

Reducing the maximum sentence to 364 days instead of 365 gives immigrants a defense against deportation: that the crime was a mere petty offense.

Is Denver again veering into “sanctuary city” territory? Not necessarily. As Meltzer also explains:

This change probably won’t do much to protect unauthorized immigrants who get caught by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their presence in the country makes them potentially deportable, regardless of any criminal activity.

It could help legal immigrants — green card holders and visa holders — avoid deportation for relatively minor offenses and could preserve their opportunity to apply for residency later.

At the same time, the reform includes a crackdown on on hate crimes. In unanimously adopting the revised sentences on Monday, the council reserved a category for more serious offenses, including municipal-level hate crimes (distinct from state law on the subject).

Meltzer quotes Scott Levin of the Anti-Defamation League, who addressed the council:

“Bias-motivated crimes are message crimes. … It’s not just targeting a victim. It’s targeting an entire community and telling them that people who look like them, who act like them, are not welcome.”

There’s a lot more to this story; you’ll get it all by reading Meltzer’s full report in Denverite.


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