Commentary

We are former lawmakers who helped pass public-benefit restrictions on undocumented Coloradans. It’s time to repeal those laws.

All Coloradans deserve access to public benefits and professional licenses

Colorado Capitol

The Colorado flag hangs in the state Capitol building on June 12, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)

By Terrance Carroll, Andrew Romanoff, Alice Madden, Betty Boyd, Andy Kerr, Michael Merrifield, Michael Cerbo and Judy Solano

Fifteen years feels like an eternity in Colorado politics. A lot has changed in that time; our values have not.

In 2006, Colorado was poised to adopt a constitutional amendment denying public benefits to undocumented residents. We were determined to keep that measure out of the state Constitution.

In response we crafted a compromise. Instead of the constitutional amendment that then-Gov. Bill Owens and his party demanded, we added a set of restrictions in the state statute. The restrictions in House Bill 06S-1023 mirrored federal law and contained exceptions for children, public health, and public safety. A separate bill, House Bill 06S-1009, confined professional, commercial and occupational licenses to Coloradans who could demonstrate lawful presence in the state.

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We passed those statutory measures because we knew that the Legislature could fix them without a constitutional fight. Today’s General Assembly now has a chance to do precisely that. Senate Bill 21-199 — Removing Barriers for Certain Public Opportunities — would repeal HB-1023 and HB-1009. We wholeheartedly support SB-199 and urge the Legislature to approve it.

Our compromise was a mistake, one we’ve long regretted. The restrictions we passed saved nothing; instead, state agencies ended up spending $2 million to verify the lawful presence of applicants for public benefits.

More troubling, immigrant communities are experiencing the harm that comes from such restrictions. Access to public benefits has become even more critical during the pandemic; many immigrant families find it difficult or impossible to obtain support.

“Our compromise was a mistake, one we’ve long regretted.”

We are formerly elected members from the legislature of 2006, and we now ask that today’s generation of elected leaders vote “yes” on SB-199.

This bill will undo the 2006 restrictions that have cost our state and our communities so much — restrictions that we passed in the state Legislature specifically to leave room for this reversal. Immigrants form a crucial part of Colorado’s workforce and our community. Undocumented immigrants alone pay more than $150 million each year in state and local taxes. They deserve access to the benefits that they contribute to maintaining.

SB-199 will help families get the services they need and allow qualified professionals to put their skills to work. Just as important, this bill will better reflect our values by honoring Colorado’s immigrants’ contributions every day. Immigrants do not have access to public benefits — including professional and occupational licenses, grants, contracts, loans or even benefits from workers’ compensation or retirement.

Most important, by enacting SB-199, state lawmakers will help create a more equitable economy and a more just society — a Colorado for all.

Signed by former state House Speakers Terrance Carroll and Andrew Romanoff; former state House Majority Leader Alice Madden; former state Sens. Betty Boyd and Andy Kerr; and former state Reps. Michael Merrifield, Michael Cerbo and Judy Solano.

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