GOP legislators, candidates head to border

State immigration policy under review

By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Seven current Colorado GOP lawmakers and four GOP candidates for the state house and senate headed south Wednesday seeking advice on how to best design tough illegal-immigration policy, making Colorado one of 22 states attempting to replicate Arizona’s controversial law — parts of which have been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.

Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Grand Junction and Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood along with candidates Chris Holbert, HD 44, Ray Scott, HD 54, Janak Joshi, HD 14, and Tim Leonard, SD 16, toured the border state on a trip organized by the Republican Study Committee of Colorado and funded by individual lawmakers. The RSCC is a voluntary collaboration of legislators advancing conservative principles.

State Sen. Kevin Lundberg said “it’s up to the people” to make immigration legislation work.

Lawmakers met with Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of SB 1070, as well as members of the state’s legislature to discuss immigration, budget issues and 2nd amendment protections.

Lambert said he and Baumgardner plan to sponsor a bill next January that matches Arizona’s SB 1070 as much as possible.

“The initial reaction of opponents is to say ‘oh it’s unconstitutional,’” Lambert said. “They don’t have the right to say that. Only courts have the right to say that.”

Currently Republicans in Colorado’s legislature do not have enough votes to pass such a bill, but Lundberg believes that after November’s election Republicans will control both houses.

“This trip reinforces our commitment and our ability to introduce tough immigration policy here in Colorado,” Lundberg said. “It’s up to the people to determine what the legislature will look like and if it will be successful.”

After discussing the details of Arizona’s immigration policy several Colorado lawmakers ventured 80 miles north of the border to see signs of illegal crossings first hand. A local citizen militia that regularly patrols the area and reports suspicious activities to local authorities guided the tour.

Renfroe said he walked along drug-running paths and came across fresh water waiting for the next bordering crossing. Lambert described dozens of burlap sacks scattered throughout the desert once used to transport marijuana.

“It put an exclamation point on to what our federal government is doing and for states to take it into their own hands,” Renfroe said.

Scott Renfroe

In a special session four years ago the Colorado Legislature enacted strict laws preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits or employment, as well as SB 90 that requires state or local governments to cooperate and communicate with federal officials concerning an arrestee who is suspected of being an illegal alien.

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition executive director Julien Ross said SB 90 already matches Arizona’s SB 1070 and that Colorado’s version has done nothing to fix the broken immigration system. He said SB 90 actually had the reverse effect by creating distrust between immigrant communities and the police that caused unintended consequences for public safety.

“It looks just like a political stunt to grab headlines,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “I don’t think they really identified something we’re not doing that could be effective.”

Renfroe agrees that SB 90 has not worked. He said the bill has been ignored by cities and has not been enforced. Renfroe said the failure of that bill is exactly why the group traveled to Arizona to study legislation with teeth.

Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, questioned the timing of the RSCC trip during a hard fought election season. She said the federal government must take the lead on immigration issues and that Colorado should focus its attention elsewhere.

“I just want the feds to do their job and we need to focus on our job, which is to stimulate the economy and improve education,” Newell said. “Focusing on immigration would just be a distraction.”

Kent Lambert

CIRC’s Ross said Coloradans are more concerned with the economy, jobs, education and health care. If legislators were sincere in wanting to fix the immigration system they would instead sit down with federal officials, he said.

“The people on this trip are sending a message that they are more interested in election year politics than actually solving the immigration system,” Ross said.

According to Lundberg, the federal government doesn’t have a very good track record in dealing with illegal immigration. He said Colorado must be proactive in dealing with the issue. Renfroe said passing tough immigration legislation is also a matter of asserting state’s rights. He said the federal government has failed on the issue.

Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, said 50 percent of Pueblo’s population is Latino. She said mimicking Arizona’s legislation would only lead to racial profiling in her district and across Colorado.

“The way the Arizona law is written with the requirement to stop people they suspect, how do you suspect?” asked Giron. “You look at someone and you see they’re brown and that’s it.”

Holbert, a GOP candidate for HD 44 that encompasses Parker, Lone Tree and Sedalia, said no racial profiling would ensue because only those suspected of crimes would be stopped. He said the new law would be no different from being pulled over while driving and handing the officer your license and registration.

“You need to honor people that came to this country legally and that emigrated the right way,” Renfroe said. “By not doing what Arizona’s done you’re not honoring them.”

Jimy@coloradostatesman.com