It shouldn’t have been a hard question for a politician and former lawmaker to answer: What is the relationship between the North American Free Trade Agreement and the influx of undocumented workers since its ratification?
In the 2008 Democratic primary for president, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talked about reforming NAFTA, mostly for the way it was contributing to the loss of manufacturing jobs in swing states like Ohio. In the years since the agreement went into effect, analysts and economists have reported that millions of Mexicans responded to the tariff-free influx of U.S. goods into their country and the loss of jobs in manufacturing and farming that resulted by “exporting” themselves north to reclaim their lost work.
Yet former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff reportedly drew a blank when asked about the connection. According to his interlocutor, Grand Junction Sentinel columnist Bill Grant, Romanoff said he didn’t know that there was a relationship between NAFTA and illegal immigration.
The Sentinel wrote:
Romanoff may choose, as others have, to minimize the importance of NAFTA to immigration, but he should be familiar with a position that has characterized progressive thought since NAFTA was passed.
The Romanoff campaign released a statement to The Colorado Independent refuting Grant’s version of the conversation
“Bill Grant is mistaken,” said Romanoff in the release. “I did not dismiss or deny any relationship between NAFTA and the flow of undocumented workers. In fact, I said I appreciated his point and invited his thoughts. In numerous speeches and in a position paper on my website (www.andrewromanoff.com), I discuss the need to address the root causes of illegal immigration, including the need for economic development abroad.”
Romanoff also suggested that Grant is a supporter of Romanoff primary opponent Sen. Michael Bennet and that the column he wrote for the paper should have been fact-checked by Sentinel edit staff. The Romanoff release is reprinted in full below.
More than a mere PR flap, the exchange throws a spotlight back onto Romanoff’s sometimes controversial record on immigration.
In his primary race against Bennet, Romanoff supports comprehensive immigration reform. He called the passage of the Arizona immigration law “a terrifying turn of events.” He released a letter of support from a group of more than 150 Latino leaders calling themselves Unidos Con Romanoff.
As House speaker in 2006, however, he sponsored legislation (PDF) to deny benefits to undocumented immigrants, except for benefits required to be dispensed by federal law. Although the state could not be required to ask for immigration status on education, emergency medical care or prenatal care, for example, it did begin to ask when releasing Medicaid and food stamps. The legislature crafted the bill during a special July session on immigration that Republican Gov. Bill Owens called for before the November elections. Democratic legislative leaders supported the legislation as well.
After the bill passed, Romanoff said, “We got more done on this issue in five days than Congress has managed in two decades.” He added, “I hope the package we put together will serve as a national model, not just in terms of the substance but also the spirit. We proved that Democrats and Republicans can work together to solve problems.”
Contrary to its intended effect of reducing the number of illegal immigrants receiving services and therefore lowering costs, enforcing the legislation increased costs for state agencies, according to the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. Less than a year after the legislation was enacted, eighteen state agencies that provide benefits reported spending $2.03 million more to comply with requirements for government-issued photo IDs and affidavits proving citizenship than they did releasing benefits without checking immigration status. The agencies also could not estimate how many immigrants, if any, were denied services.
Some Latinos have criticized Romanoff for his role in passing HB 1023. Rudy Gonzales, executive director of Denver-based Servicios de la Raza, a nonprofit human service and advocacy agency, told the Colorado Independent, “Many of our clients, the majority of them are immigrants and most of them are monolingual and would not be able to get services anywhere else due to what I call the foundational bill of 1023 in 2006 that was passed by Andrew Romanoff — the special session bill.” He also called it the “foundation” to Arizona’s new law SB 1070.
The Romanoff campaign also responded to allegations that a staffer doctored, via Photoshop, a picture for an online donation banner with a Latino man’s photo. His spokesman, Roy Teicher, said “those minority folks were absolutely at the rally.” A coalition of Latino groups responded to the comment, angered by both the allegedly doctored image and the words “minority folks.”
There is infrequent polling on the Democratic primary; most polling looks at Democratic-Republican matchups. In a poll done on the Democratic primary in March, Mr. Romanoff trailed Sen. Bennet 34 to 40 percent, with 26 percent undecided. A PPP poll released today showed Bennet leading in the race.
Romanoff campaign statement:
Bill Grant is mistaken. I did not dismiss or deny any relationship between NAFTA and the flow of undocumented workers. In fact, I said I appreciated his point and invited his thoughts. In numerous speeches and in a position paper on my website (www.andrewromanoff.com), I discuss the need to address the root causes of illegal immigration, including the need for economic development abroad.
I respect Mr. Grant and his decision to support my opponent. He is certainly within his rights to promote candidates of his choice, as he has done before:
The Sentinel would have been wise, however, to identify Mr. Grant as a Bennet delegate and to fact-check its opinion columns.
CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE
Additional reporting by Scot Kersgaard.