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Borderline solution

Immigration ballot measures equate to 'piecemeal' efforts to fix a fractured system


From left: Deacon Pat Bidon, John Cruzat of USA - Swimming, Minuteman Jeff Henry and Mayor Lionel - Rivera at Mondays immigration discussion. - NAOMI ZEVELOFF
  • Naomi Zeveloff
  • From left: Deacon Pat Bidon, John Cruzat of USA Swimming, Minuteman Jeff Henry and Mayor Lionel Rivera at Mondays immigration discussion.

Two immigration ballot measures put to voters next month appear likely to pass but critics predict they'll have little effect on undocumented immigration.

Referendums H and K are different in scope, but both tend toward symbolic, rather than practical, solutions to fixing broken immigration legislation, a task the Colorado State House also failed to accomplish during its special summer session.

"I think the key thing the Legislature wanted to do was to have something that people could vote on," says Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based think tank that has taken a neutral stance on both referendums.

Jones says voters will likely approve the measures that have largely "flown under the radar," without the massive pro and counter campaigns of many questions that will appear on November's crowded ballot.

Referendum H, the result of a House bill that received bipartisan sponsorship, would punish businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. The measure would force employers to pay taxes on wages they give to undocumented immigrant employees; companies typically claim tax deductions for all business expenditures, including wages.

But the measure would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2008, and it would be up to businesses to self-report undocumented immigrant hirings an aspect that could render the measure completely ineffective.

John Cruzat, diversity specialist of USA Swimming, spoke at a Pikes Peak Community College panel discussion on immigration Monday morning that addressed, among other topics, the two ballot measures.

"Punishing businesses is not to the benefit of our economy," he said. "[Referendum H] puts businesses in a situation to enforce immigration law. There are so many wonderful counterfeit IDs out there, that it makes it difficult to isolate the [undocumented immigrants] here."

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, who was also a panelist, disagreed, saying he supports the measure.

"[Businesses] should be doing that all along," he said. "Folks should be penalized for writing off money given to undocumented immigrants."

The second ballot question, Referendum K, would seek to hold the federal government accountable for not enforcing existing immigration law. The measure, which is the result of a House bill sponsored mostly by Democrats, would authorize the Colorado attorney general to launch the state into a lawsuit against the U.S. government to attempt to recover some of Colorado's costs in providing for undocumented immigrants.

The Bell Policy Center estimates that immigrants cost state and local governments $225 million per year in services such as K-12 education, emergency medical care and incarceration. Through taxes, immigrants pay back 70 to 86 percent of that total. Several other states have attempted to sue the federal government in similar cases, and all have failed. If the measure passes, Colorado would spend $190,000 annually until the lawsuit is resolved.

"It is a waste of resources," said Rivera.

Colorado State University at Pueblo president Joseph Garcia, also on the panel, called both measures "piecemeal efforts to make people feel better about the situation."

Another panelist was Jeff Henry, the local leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. He was largely silent on the referendums.

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