Immigration activists to state lawmakers: Advance real reform

Continuing our new series, Colorado Confidential is publishing guest commentaries from politicos, former lawmakers, issues groups and others on their hopes for the 2008 state legislative session.

Click the image at left as a link to the OpEds posted thus far.

Today, we invite you to read the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition’s expectations for lawmakers following the tumultuous 2006 special legislative session on immigration.The failure of Congress and the Bush administration to reform our nation’s outdated and unjust immigration system at the federal level leaves the Colorado Legislature with two options in 2008:

1) Repeat the mistakes of 2006 by passing reactionary policies that do nothing to fix our immigration system and create fear, exclusion and labor shortages; or

2) Adopt sound policies that are welcoming and inclusive to newcomers, strengthen our economy and establish civility in the immigration debate to create a path for real reform solutions at the federal level.

As a statewide coalition of community, faith, labor and student organizations, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) envisions a Colorado based on scenario No. 2. Here are a few ways our state lawmakers could lead us there:

First, legislators should take stock of the failures of the 2006 laws. State enforcement of federal immigration laws is terrorizing immigrant communities and resulting in cases of racial profiling on our streets and highways. House Bill 1023, touted as Colorado’s toughest new law to keep undocumented immigrants from using state tax dollars, has cost Colorado state agencies millions to enforce while saving the state nothing. Also, the well-publicized labor shortages created by a hostile climate have hurt business.

Colorado is worse off 18 months after the 2006 laws. In the perfect world, all of the 2006 laws would be repealed this legislative session.

While no such fixes are slated in 2008 due to election-year politics, we can expect some immigration related measures:

Voting reform. We should enfranchise more voters rather than create a witchhunt for voter fraud. With the problems that have been revealed about the accuracy and security of Colorado’s voting machines by the Secretary of State’s office, and the voter intimidation and misinformation of the last election, we need laws that protect voters and the ballots they’ve cast. Scapegoating of immigrants is not the way to fix the election problems.

Budget reform. We need less smoke and mirrors and more real change so that Colorado can grow stronger. The scapegoating of immigrants in measures such as HB 1023 mask the true need for budget reform. All immigrant families are bearing the burden for the fact that Colorado’s budget is broken. No one in Colorado is paying his or her share of taxes to support our government. As the Colorado Center on Law and Policy study Aiming for the Middle shows, Colorado ranks 49th out of 50 states in state spending based on personal income of Coloradoans. TABOR has slowly tied a noose around government. Rather than take the noose off, Colorado’s solution is to deport community members. The ethics and statistics don’t bear out. Colorado needs budget reform and a workforce that can advance, is not afraid to claim unpaid wages and where communities unite to create positive change rather than divide people by who has made it through the broken federal immigration system.

Public Safety. The focus on state enforcement of federal immigration law by local law enforcement has taken us away from effective community policing. This emphasis has done nothing but create fear and distrust within immigrant communities. Many Colorado families are of mixed immigration status. Therefore the effect of this enforcement affects all immigrants, all communities of color, and not just those who are undocumented. CIRC’s member organizations have received widespread reports of racial profiling as a result of these new laws. Prior to the passage of C.R.S. 29-29-101 Colorado law enforcement officers were making great strides at increasing immigrant community cooperation with law enforcement. Reports of domestic violence and other violent crimes were up. Immigrant attendance at crime prevention workshops were up. However, the requirement that law enforcement officers report any arrestee suspected of being undocumented to Immigration and Customs Enforcement has decreased these things according to anecdotal reports from law enforcement and immigrant communities. Our officers should be allowed to focus on stopping crime rather than having to fulfill an unfunded mandate that destroys families and communities. Immigrant communities all over the state have expressed their desire to see legislation this session that increases cooperation between immigrant communities and law enforcement and repeal of the immigration enforcement measures passed in 2006.

Worker protections. Along the same lines, worker protections would go farther to strengthen Colorado communities and alleviate the unfounded concerns people have about immigrants driving down wages. Colorado also needs tougher protections for injured and unpaid workers. This would benefit all low-wage workers. If workers aren’t getting paid, they aren’t feeding their families or paying taxes.

Health care reform. For the 208 Commission recommendations, we need coverage of all Coloradans regardless of immigration status. One of the unsubstantiated concerns about immigrants is that they are using emergency rooms more frequently than others and that they are uninsured. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health on July 25, 2005 cited by the Physicians for a National Health Program shows that immigrants use less health care services than non-immigrants. Many undocumented immigrants in Colorado are spouses or parents of U.S. citizens and these citizens will be hurt both economically and emotionally through the suffering in their families if we don’t include everyone in the healthcare fix. A study from the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center from October 2, 2005 shows that undocumented women gave birth to healthy babies but received inadequate prenatal care which resulted in lengthy hospital stays. The study author stated there was evidence that for every dollar in prenatal care spent, there would be a savings of $1.50 in hospital stays and better baby outcomes. This thinking extends to the health care debate. It’s more affordable to include the estimated 250,000 Coloradoans who are undocumented into the coverage of all 4 million Coloradoans than to force them to use emergency rooms as their health care provider. It will help Colorado’s economy to have a healthy workforce and healthy children. Most importantly, it’s the moral thing to do.

“No Hate in the Debate in 2008!” Finally, in the perfect world, all state lawmakers would publicly reject the politics of division and isolation that fan anger and hate against immigrants. They would lead with a tone of civility in the immigration debate in order to create a climate for real federal-level solutions to America’s broken immigration system, which would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the reunification of families, strong protections for all workers and strengthened human rights and civil liberties for all.

Amber Tafoya is the Public Policy Coordinator and Julien Ross is the Director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), a statewide alliance of immigrant and ally organizations working to defend and advance justice for all immigrants and refugees in Colorado.

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