Border war or political war
The Daily Sentinel
January 28, 2006
Colorado Republicans, staggered in 2004 by the loss of the Legislature, are building a campaign strategy aimed at convincing voters they can staunch the flow of illegal immigration into Colorado, if not the country.
It’s a strategy that some Democrats have criticized as ill-advised because illegal immigration is a national issue.
“I think the Democrats are on the wrong side of this,” said former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, who has long maintained, frequently against his Democratic party’s establishment, the United States needs to control its borders. “People are upset. Right now, it’s a very strong, positive issue for the Republicans. It could be an issue that will win or lose races.”
Even Lamm, though, won’t go as far as Bob Beauprez, one of two Colorado Republicans chasing the governorship. Beauprez listed as his top priority the control of illegal immigration and said the states shouldn’t have to wait on the federal government. He listed as his top priority the control of illegal immigration.
“There is a great deal that the states and governors must do,” Beauprez said last week in an appearance with CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who also isn’t shy about demanding that politicians take action on illegal immigration.
Estimates place the illegal immigrant population in the United States at about 11 million, with about 400,000 in Colorado.
That a state can play a primary role in illegal immigration isn’t a proposition embraced by the Democrats’ leading announced candidate, former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter.
Some states have adopted laws to discourage illegal immigration, Ritter said.
“Whether they can actually do that is an open question,” he said. “This is an issue that is largely a federal issue that has to date been poorly handled by the federal government.”
Colorado’s first concern should be to join with other states to pressure the federal government to improve border security and enhance enforcement, Ritter said.
It’s a mine field, though, he said.
“I suspect that this is one of those political issues that people will try to get great leverage from without being terribly thoughtful about it,” Ritter said.
The Colorado legislative Republicans aren’t unlike Lamm in defying high party leadership on the subject of illegal immigration. U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo was famously banned from the White House because of his incendiary illegal-immigration views, and it is to him that many Republicans defer when it comes to expertise on illegal immigration.
Still, Colorado’s Republican legislators crafting a state answer to illegal immigration aren’t exactly making the mold on the illegal-immigration issue.
All 50 state legislatures last year approved 40 immigration-related laws after considering 300 of them. More changes are due to be considered this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Colorado Republicans have a package of bills, some already introduced and others awaiting sponsors.
State Rep. Dave Schultheis keeps track of the Republican immigration measures at his Web site, www.DaveSchultheis.com.
Democrats, meanwhile, are scrambling to get together their own bill package.
While noting that the feds have “fallen down on the job,” Speaker Andrew Romanoff said Democrats have “been working for the last couple of months on a package of proposals, which we hope to introduce with bipartisan support, aimed at solving this problem to the extent of our ability as state legislators.”
One area of possible agreement, despite their differing linguistic approaches, is a prohibition on state contracts with companies that hire illegal immigrants.
Republicans have such a measure in their package, and Democrats are working on a bill that would bar the state from contracting with companies that don’t demand documentation from their employees, Romanoff said.
Romanoff said he also hoped to reach agreement on issues such as human smuggling — “People ought not traffic in human beings with impunity” — and a resolution of the Legislature on illegal immigration.
The parties and gubernatorial candidates, however, already are split on other illegal-immigration issues, and some Republicans are prepared to capitalize on the differences.
Beauprez and the Republicans want the state to ride herd on so-called “sanctuary cities,” in which the city councils have ordered their employees not to inquire about the immigration status of people they deal with or who run afoul of other laws.
Boulder, Denver and Durango all are sanctuary cities, and Beauprez noted that talk about them might “complicate” the lives of their mayors.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is flirting with, but hasn’t declared, a bid for the governorship.
Republicans also are working on legislation that would require local law enforcement officials to identify, process and, in certain cases, detain persons suspected of immigration offenses when those people are encountered during routine law enforcement activity.
Romanoff said Democrats also want more cooperation between local and federal law enforcement, but “we want to be careful of unfunded mandates. We’re wary of doing to local authorities what the feds have done to us.”
Republicans also want school districts to collect citizenship information from students when they register, while promising no negative repercussions for the students and their families.
Democrats hope to pass a measure that would evaluate the economic impact of immigration: “what immigration is doing to and for our economy,” Romanoff said.
Colorado’s majority party in the Legislature also is pursuing measures to make more secure birth certificates and other documents as part of its identity-theft crackdown, Romanoff said.
And he wants a measure that makes sure the rights of citizens and legal residents “are not unfairly swept away in our anti-immigrant zeal,” he said.
Bob Caskey, a Republican hoping to unseat state Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, said sanctuary cities and law enforcement will be a big part of his campaign in the coming months.
“If the law’s not right, then let’s change the constitution and change the law,” he said. “Let’s not promote breaking the law.”
The idea of state action appeals to him, Caskey said.
“If the feds aren’t going to act, we’ll have to address the issues under our (Colorado) Constitution,” he said.
Buescher, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said he hadn’t read any of the immigration bills in the hopper and wouldn’t until they come before him.
“I spend my time on the budget,” he said.
Before he gets to run against Hickenlooper, Ritter or any other Democrat, Beauprez has to defeat Marc Holtzman, a former Denver University president and member of retiring Gov. Bill Owens’ Cabinet.
Holtzman is an announced backer of a guest-worker program and said it’s the governor’s job to “stand up to the federal government” and demand border security.
“We need the political will at the federal level to protect our borders,” Holtzman said.
The state does have room to maneuver on sanctuary cities, Holtzman said, contending there “should be no sanctuary for people who break the laws.”
Beauprez, however, is crossing horns with Democrats on his proposal to provide Colorado employers with an instant-check system and require them to use it, much as gun sellers nationwide are required to do with handgun purchases.
When he pitches that idea to employers, “heads in the room are nodding,” Beauprez said.
Employers, he said, want a system that will allow them to hire migrant labor in a timely, flexible fashion.
Employers already are required to have employees fill out I-9 forms, which have to include Social Security numbers, Ritter said.
It could take as long as 18 months for an employer to learn he’d been given a bogus Social Security number.
“It’s far too simple-minded to say, ‘Check the Social Security card and I-9 form,’ ” Ritter said.
Much of the criticism he gets, Beauprez said, is “absolute nonsense,” but, to be sure, “if we were to adopt that, we’d be pushing the federal government to upgrade the technology of the Social Security Administration.”
GWB has stated his position, he's big time in favor of illegal immigration. This is an opportunity for the dems to make hay, if they're smart enough, and hand Jorge his ass in the mid-terms.