Learning From Colorado

Last summer, Colorado lawmakers passed some of the toughest immigration laws in the country.

As a result, legal residents have reported problems when trying to apply for driver’s licenses and social services, farmers are looking at prison labor to work their fields, and concerns are being raised over unintended consequences like racial profiling.

Now with federal immigration reform on the horizon, is Congress about to make the same mistakes?The Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law seems to think so.

According to a recent report, a House bill aimed at fixing immigration would criminalize undocumented immigrants, encourage racial profiling, and impact low-income workers.

The measure in question is called the STRIVE ACT, or the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007.

Today’ s Denver Post alludes to the bill, which is being sponsored by Reps. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, and Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican.

Colorado Rep. John Salazar, who spoke with local immigration activists just a few weeks ago in Washington D.C., is also one of the co-sponsors of the proposal.

Tidbits from the report:

Interestingly, no similar criminal penalties are imposed on undocumented immigrants who entered lawfully but then illegally over-stayed their visas. In short, these criminal penalties will fall almost exclusively on immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who are routinely denied non-immigrant visas and are therefore far more likely to enter the country without inspection than to come with visas which they then overstay.
Authorizing the DHS to construct and acquire at least 20 additional facilities for the detention of another 20,000 immigrants (above the over 100,000 already detained) will likely result in the detention of thousands of immigrants who pose no threat to the national security threat, are not a danger to their communities, and are not a flight risk. This will also cause the separation of thousands of families.

Granting immigration enforcement authority to state and local police will invite racial profiling, unquestionably increase immigrants’ fear of local police and reluctance to report crimes, and divert local law enforcement agencies from addressing more serious and violent crimes.

By further limiting the list of acceptable documents that can be used in order to establish employment authorization, the proposed bill will adversely impact on thousands of low-income U.S. workers who do not possess the type of identification required to obtain a job.

One part that is not included in Colorado law, is the creation of a temporary worker program, which the report concludes is more favorable to businesses rather than worker’s rights:

A temporary worker facing termination of her or his immigration status if out of work for more than 60 days will obviously be far less inclined to unionize, strike, quite work because of labor law violations or sexual harassment, etc. than a permanent worker who does not face loss of status based upon loss of employment.

The proposed bill does not require that the labor certification process be strengthened so that certifications are issued only when there is a demonstrated shortage of labor to fill temporary jobs.

The bill is set to be heard by the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees.

With immigration reform listed as a top priority by the U.S. Senate and legislation that is set to reportedly be done by the summer, the entire country could be put in the same situation as Colorado.

Only this time, it won’t be limited to state lines.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.