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On the papers trail

Dems chase down their own get-tough immigration policies


Sen. Peter Groff's publicity stunt to show that Democrats can be tough on illegal immigration began on the south steps of the state Capitol.

Invited via press release, an array of television and print reporters and photographers gathered at 11 a.m. Monday as snow fell, to join Groff in a Colorado State Patrol "ride-along." Groff wanted to highlight that Democrats can stop the constant flow of migrants who travel through the state each year, said Alejandra Gonzales, a spokeswoman for the party.

"This criticism that Democrats are soft on immigration is hardly, hardly valid," she said.

This election year has already seen several get-tough Republican proposals killed by Democrats.

Gonzales soon informed reporters that Groff, riding shotgun with a state patrolman, was en route to an accident that occurred at 9:43 a.m. on the eastern plains. A Chevrolet Suburban crammed with 14 men, two women and a boy had veered off icy Interstate 70 and rolled. Everyone inside was suspected of being in the country without proper documentation, and they were being detained at a firehouse in Byers, she said.

A convoy of press vehicles pursued Groff from the state Capitol, through a closed stretch of I-70, to the small farming town about 40 miles east of Denver.

As reporters arrived, two white U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement vans were seen hauling the immigrants away. They would be quickly deported, Gonzales said.

In the firehouse, Groff touted a pair of bills that aim to crack down on the smuggling of undocumented workers and human trafficking in Colorado despite the fact that nobody in the accident immediately was suspected of either.

Groff told reporters his bills would help stop similar accidents, because smugglers and traffickers avoid states with tough laws.

Senate Bill 206 would make it a felony to transport illegal immigrants within Colorado, adding state charges to existing federal penalties. SB 207 would make it illegal to sell adults into the sex trade or to force them into indentured servitude. Currently, state law only protects children.

Within minutes, an energized Groff was whisked back to the Capitol, where he relayed the tale to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In debate, Groff highlighted a recent internal state patrol report that found officers encounter some 500 illegal immigrants along Colorado highways each week.

The committee passed his two bills on 6-0 votes. If the bills end up being signed into law, locking up smugglers and traffickers in state prisons likely will cost the state $5.2 million in costs over the next five years.

According to Shawn Palmer, chief of the fire department in Byers, the firehouse had used two of its ambulances and a fire truck to transport all the immigrants in the morning crash, save for two who were hospitalized with minor injuries.

Most in the group weren't dressed for the cold, he said, adding that many were hungry and filled up on the firehouse's chili, hot chocolate and soda.

"It didn't feel like it was a detention center," Palmer said.

The migrants, who didn't speak English, were mostly nervous, Palmer said, and no handcuffs were needed. Many were believed to be farm laborers coming to the region for spring work.

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