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Shooting sparks immigration debate

Critics suggest posturing, say real issues remain unaddressed

An attorney with an agency that helps undocumented workers gain legal status in the United States is criticizing El Paso County commissioners for using the murder of a Denver police officer to launch a debate about undocumented workers.

"They're tarring all immigrants with the same, broad brush," said Amber Tafoya, the supervising attorney for Southern Colorado Center for Immigrant Rights, which is part of Catholic Charities of Pueblo.

Last week, County Commission Chairman Jim Bensberg drafted a letter to federal immigration authorities, offering to aid them in the "effort to apprehend those who are in this country in violation of federal law." But without providing any specifics, the message left some critics, including Tafoya, leveling claims that the commission chairman was merely posturing.

Bensberg's letter was issued as a response to the May 8 shooting death of Denver police Detective Donald Young, who previously worked in law enforcement in Colorado Springs. Denver police are searching for suspected killer Raul Garcia-Gomez, an undocumented Mexican native who probably fled Denver and possibly the country.

Other commissioners supported the message, including Sallie Clark, who also said she "certainly didn't want to single out people to feel like criminals when they are not."

But Commissioner Douglas Bruce wants to do more than write a letter. He supports a plan that would assure contractors doing business with El Paso County aren't employing undocumented workers.

"When people commit a crime, they should be arrested and punished -- even if the most effective punishment is simply deportation," Bruce said.

Tafoya said commissioners glossed over the reality that many foreign janitors and restaurant, construction and farm laborers in the United States are doing jobs that few Americans want.

Instead of a letter addressing the U.S. policy on immigration and the resources currently in place to target undocumented immigrants, she said she would have preferred that commissioners urge local congressional representatives to support bipartisan legislation by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. , and others. The bill would grant undocumented workers a legal pathway to citizenship, helping to end a backlog of a decade or more.

"What we need to do is address the fact that we have a broken system," Tafoya said.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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