Colorado lawmakers eye immigration crackdown



Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, spent a week in Arizona earlier this summer.


The Colorado lawmaker has a son in Tucson.

But this wasn’t just a family visit; it was also a fact-finding mission to bolster his effort to bring Arizona’s anti-immigration laws to Colorado.

The most recent of those laws, SB 1070, would give Arizona law enforcement expanded powers to determine immigration status. The provisions of the bill — some of which have been blocked by an injunction — state that whenever officers make “lawful contact” with a person and there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an undocumented immigrant, “a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.”

Further, the new law would require officers to determine the immigration status of anyone who is arrested. The law does say that law enforcement “may not solely consider race, color or national origin” in their judgment, except as provided by law. Officers are indemnified against most legal action arising out of such encounters, except in cases where they “acted in bad faith.”

Lambert told Boulder Weekly that during his trip to Arizona, he discussed the new legislation with Gov. Jan Brewer’s staff as well as Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, who wrote and sponsored SB 1070.

He says he and some of his Colorado Republican colleagues plan to introduce a 1070-like bill, or series of bills, during the 2011 legislative session.

According to the political action committee Americans for Legal Immigration, bills similar to SB 1070 are going to be introduced in at least 17 other states.

Lambert maintains that SB 1070 simply enforces existing immigration laws, and that it will not result in racial profiling, as its opponents have claimed.

“That’s one of the big lies about this,” he says.

“There’s nothing in it that is racist.”



He does acknowledge, however, that the SB 1070 term “reasonable suspicion” is subject to interpretation.

Would having brown skin and speaking Spanish warrant an inquiry into one’s immigration status? Lambert says no.

“But if you have a van with 20 people in it and none can speak English, you might have a clue there,” he says. “Especially if they’re hidden under the floorboards.”

Lambert says SB 1070 is “immensely popular” in Arizona because the immigration problem there has gotten out of hand, with trafficking, gangs and violence that has prompted officials to post signs at entrances to national parks and forests warning people to be aware that undocumented immigrants use those areas as refuges. Lambert says that some Bureau of Land Management lands are off-limits to the U.S. Border Patrol due to environmental sensitivity, making them a prime sanctuary for “illegal aliens.” Due to the new Arizona law, he says, many Mexican immigrants are fleeing that state and coming to Colorado. He cites a CBS news report of a Mexican woman saying that SB 1070 has prompted her to head from Arizona to Colorado — with her 10 U.S.-born kids. According to Lambert, it costs about $100,000 to give one child a K-12 education, so that family will cost the state $1 million.

He also asserts that undocumented immigrants are costing U.S. citizens jobs, and that it is a myth — especially in this economy — that Mexicans are willing to do menial jobs that U.S. citizens won’t do.

Lambert says he recently heard from a construction worker who was laid off so that the employer could give the job to an illegal alien at a lower wage.

One of Lambert’s colleagues, Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, shares a similar story about a car painter who lost his job to an undocumented Mexican immigrant.

They both say there needs to be a crackdown both on the immigrants and the employers who hire them illegally.

Schultheis has tried unsuccessfully in each of the last five years to pass a bill that would require Colorado employers to use “E-Verify,” a free, Internet-based system that quickly checks an employee’s immigration status at the time of hire.

Arizona has such a law, and Lambert and Schultheis say that an E-Verify bill will be among the legislation they or one of their Republican colleagues carry next spring.

They both acknowledge that the effect of E-Verify would be that employers would not be able to hire undocumented immigrants at meager wages, meaning that their payroll costs would go up, possibly passing those expenses on to the consumer and negatively affecting the economy.

But they counter that the government would save millions of dollars on public services currently extended to illegal immigrants and their children, including education, unemployment and Medicaid. (Arizona has a law prohibiting undocumented immigrants from receiving any public state services except emergency medical care, Lambert points out.)

Lambert says those savings on public services could result in tax cuts that would more than offset any economic impact caused by requiring employers to hire U.S. citizens and pay at least minimum wage.

“Right now, it’s all done with a wink and a nod,” Schultheis says. “We’re helping the slave labor market, that’s what we’re doing. … But there are no jobs that Americans won’t do. You just need to pay them enough to support their families.”

He adds that he doesn’t blame the immigrants for leaving Mexico in search of work and a better life — he blames their government.

“I don’t blame them for doing it, but we can’t take on the whole world,” he says. “I blame Mexico for not dealing with their issues as they should.”