WATCH: Romanoff defends record on illegal immigration

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Andrew Romanoff, who won a top spot on the primary ballot with 60.4 percent of the vote at the Democratic Party state assembly this weekend, told the Colorado Independent that his position on illegal immigration has been consistent stretching back to the time he was Colorado Speaker of the House. Romanoff has come under fire in his run against Sen. Michael Bennet for leading a special House session in 2006 that resulted in what has been called one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country and a precursor to the flash-point SB1070 law passed last month in Arizona.

He hasn’t “swung hard” away from the law he made in 2006, as some have said. Romanoff told the Independent that he was leading the special session, which was called by Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Romanoff says the facts are plain, that time and again he described the laws made in 2006 as stop gap measures in advance of real federal comprehensive immigration reform. He believed then as he believes now that comprehensive immigration that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers already here in the country must be passed.

Romanoff said the state legislature in 2006 was given a choice: Pass new laws or face ballot measure(s) that would have had considerably harsher results.

“This ought not to be, I think, a matter of he said-she said. There are facts involved here. I reckon as they’re the casualties of a political campaign but that’s the job of the press to sort it out.

“If you look to the record in 2006, to the speech I gave to the opening session of that legislature, I said then what I say now, that the federal government needs to solve this problem. I have given press conferences throughout the last five years in which I said The state cannot solve this problem on its own. I know. We tried. And no amount of state action alone can substitute for the reform we need.

“It’s… outrageous that folks who had no hand in protecting our state from some of the dangerous measures [proposed for the voters ballot] in 2006 are now attempting to rewrite history and distort my record and divide the people of Colorado. The good news is that the facts are on my side.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there were a number of immigration initiatives proposed in 2006 for Colorado, including a measure termed Defend Colorado Now and sponsored by a group of the same name. The measure sought to bar illegal immigrants from tax-payer funded benefits except those required by the federal government. The main difference between the law Romanoff worked to pass and the Defend Colorado Now initiative seems chiefly to lie in the amount of funding that would have gone to programs that immigrants and illegal aliens depend upon. Here is analysis from NCSL and a list of the other immigration-related initiatives faced by legislators including Romanoff in 2006.

Proposed Initiative #55, commonly known as Defend Colorado Now, decreased state spending on the welfare of Colorado’s illegal immigrants and prohibits immigrants not lawfully residing in Colorado from receiving tax-payer funded public benefits, except those required by the federal government. The state Supreme Court declared the initiative unconstitutional, ruling that according to the state constitution, ballot initiatives cannot address more than one issue at a time.

Governor Owens called a special session, which convened on July 6, 2006. In response to ballot measure #55, a bill limiting state-funded benefits for immigrants 18 years of age and older who can not prove legal immigration status (HB 06S-1023) was passed by both chambers, approved by the Governor and is in effect since July 31, 2006.

Proposed Initiative #95, introduced by Denise Walters and Jorge L. Garcia, concerned the education of English Language Learners. The initiative required that children who do not speak English as a first language be taught English as quickly as possible. These students will be enrolled in English speaking classrooms and newcomers will be placed in an accelerated English learning transitional program, not to exceed one year. If schools fail to reach pre-designated achievement levels, the school stands at risk of losing accreditation. Students will take a nationally accepted English language proficiency test at least once a year to monitor progress. The initiative needed 67,829 signatures by August 7, 2006. The necessary signatures were not obtained; it did not appear on the November 7, 2006 ballot.

Referendum H forbids employers from claiming employee’s wages as deductible business expenses for those employees whose U.S. legal status is not verified. This measure applies to employees hired on or after January 1, 2008 and who receive more than $600 a year in wages. This measure appeared on the November 7, 2006 ballot and was passed with 51% of the vote.

Referendum K instructs the state attorney general to sue the federal government in order to demand that it enforces federal immigration law. This measure appeared on the November 7, 2006 ballot and was passed with 56% of the vote.

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