Lambert to introduce Arizona-style immigration legislation for Colorado

Colorado State Senator-elect Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, told The Colorado Independent Monday that he will introduce legislation early in the next session that would be nearly a carbon copy of Arizona’s SB 1070.

“We will introduce a series of bills that have to do with illegal immigration. We plan to run a 1070-type bill,” he said, adding that the legislation will be ready to go right away when the session opens.

Kent Lambert

Lambert said he is not concerned about litigation. “We are very confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the Arizona law as it was written.

“The issue is not to try and write a bill in such a way that you can avoid litigation. It will be litigated one way or the other,” Lambert said. “Groups that oppose measures like this will litigate no matter how you write it.”

He said that polls show that a majority of Americans support legislation like Arizona’s. “I don’t care if it is litigated,” he said. “It is clearly something the people want. The will of the people has been ignored by Democrats for too long.”

Lambert said that if the law is not passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor-elect John Hickenlooper, it will probably be put on the ballot by the people.

“John Hickenlooper is clearly on the wrong side of this issue. The people of Colorado clearly want this passed. If the Legislature and the governor fail, then it will go to a vote of the people,” Lambert said.

He said he understood that a State Senate with a 20-15 Democratic majority might not pass an Arizona-style immigration bill. “I expect it will be a controversial bill, but there is a chance it will pass because it is possible that some of the Democrats will listen to what their constituents are telling them.”

“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get full Republican control in Colorado. We did get the House of Representatives so we’ll just have to see what is possible,” Lambert said.

Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, will introduce similar legislation in the House. Baumgardner said it is his goal to craft a bill that “is Constitutional.”

“We’re not trying to be hard-nosed. We don’t want to deny medical services or education to anyone,” Baumgardner told The Independent.

He said his bill may not look much like Arizona’s and may be different than the Senate bill also. He noted that Hickenlooper promised to veto an Arizona-style bill while campaigning and said he would like the House bill to be one the governor could consider signing.

“There is going to be immigration reform in the House, but I don’t know yet how it will look,” Baumgardner said.

Hickenlooper spokesperson Eric Brown said, “The Arizona law poses troubling constitutional issues and even many Arizonans are having second thoughts.”

State Senator Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said it was unlikely he would support a bill that had much resemblance to Arizona’s. “I would need to see the bill, but if it is anything like Arizona’s, it is probably unconstitutional and I don’t see any reason to walk into a lawsuit.”

Pat Steadman (Photo/Steadman)

He also said he thinks the Arizona law leads to racial profiling and discriminatory behavior on the part of law enforcement, if it is followed.

State Senate President Pro-tem Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, said she would also be opposed. “The law in Arizona is discriminatory,” she said.

She added that Colorado does not have the funds to enforce such a law even if it were passed. She said the chances of a law like Arizona’s being passed in the Colorado Senate are nil. “I think passage is highly unlikely,” she said.

Boyd said Colorado is already struggling financially and that passing a law that would drive business from the state is a bad idea. She said she has spoken with a state legislator from Arizona who told her SB 1070 had been very bad for businesses in Arizona.

Rich Grant, communications director for Visit Denver, said his organization, which promotes conventions in Denver, is very concerned about the impacts a bill like this could have on the state’s tourism and convention business.

“We are concerned with any legislation that has the potential of costing Colorado jobs, tax revenue, and hurting the tourism industry,” Grant said.

“It was just documented in the study that came out last week that the boycott in Arizona has cost the state $141 million in lost meeting and convention business.”

He said he has not seen the proposed bill and cannot comment on it specifically.

The study Grant referred to–eported last week by The Independent–indicates that Arizona has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue because of the bill.

“The only people that benefit from legislation like that are the politicians who use it as leverage to create wedge issues,” said one of the study’s authors, Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

“It is unfortunate that people use divisiveness for political purposes,” he said.

Fitz said laws like Arizona’s fail on three fronts. First, they fail to really address the problem. Second, they cause economic losses for the states that pass them. Third, “It is indisputable–no matter where you stand on the issue–that this legislation has been a black eye for the State of Arizona.

“Why would any state legislature invite that type of self-inflicted wound?” he asked.

Julian Ross, Executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, also opposes legislation like this in Colorado. He said Colorado voters sent a clear message on the issue when they voted for Hickenlooper instead of Tancredo.

“Any attempt to pass a bill like this in Colorado will be nothing but theatrics and an attempt to profit from a wedge issue,” he said. “Colorado will see through the theatrics and say ‘let’s get real and put some pressure on Congress and the president to fix it.'”

He said polling that indicates Americans are in favor of laws like Arizona’s show “frustration that has been building for decades as presidents and Congress have swept the issue under the rug. People want something done,” he said.

Lambert said he has been in contact with Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, who introduced SB 1070 and that Pearce has told him Arizona expects to win its court battle over the bill, even if there are setbacks along the way.

“They believe they will win in the United States Supreme Court if not before,” Lambert said. He said there has never been a court judgment that states could not enforce federal laws. Pearce has said he expects to win by a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court.

Pearce’s motivation in pushing the Arizona legislation has been called into question by people who point to his close relationship with a private-for-profit prison company, which would stand to benefit if Arizona enforced its law by jailing illegal immigrants.

Whether related to his ties to the prison company or not, Pearce is now actively trying to replicate 1070 across the country.

“Our bill will be the same as 1070 philosophically but will be different in the details because ours changes Colorado law and theirs changed Arizona law,” Lambert said.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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