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Colorado Court Strikes Human Smuggling Law

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Sometimes, you just don't know where the road will take you -- especially when you take a wrong turn.

Bernardino Fuentes-Espinoza found that out when he was driving illegal immigrants across state lines into Colorado. He was caught and convicted of smuggling under state laws.

Seven years later, the Colorado Supreme Court threw out his conviction because Colorado's law was preempted by federal law. His case, Fuentes-Espinoza v. People, will go down as a litigation landmark.

Federal v. State

While the state attorney general promised to appeal, it will be a rocky road to the nation's highest court. It has a crowded docket and has already ruled on a similar issue in Arizona.

"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," Justice Richard Gabriel wrote for the Colorado court.

The decision relied on Arizona v. United States, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2012 that said Arizona's immigration laws were preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Gabriel, in a majority opinion, said the federal "framework is so pervasive that it has left no room for the states to supplement it."

Human Smuggling

Justice Allison Eid, in dissent, said the Colorado law was about human smuggling, not immigration. Colorado's top prosecutor, Cynthia Coffman, said she will file a petition with 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," she said. "Our laws were enacted to serve the important purpose of protecting and vindicating the innocent victims of serious crimes."

According to reports, the Colorado ruling is the latest development precluding local authorities from enforcing immigration law. Last month, Denver enacted a sanctuary ordinance against immigration detention requests.

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