By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Following this month’s bust of 14,500 marijuana plants that allegedly were in part being grown by Mexican migrant workers, a Colorado Springs senator is calling on Gov. Bill Ritter and the General Assembly to take aggressive action on illegal immigration in Colorado, though immigrant rights’ groups say lawmakers shouldn’t blame entire communities for the actions of a few individuals.
Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said on Friday that in lieu of the “growing role illegal immigration plays in expanding international drug cartels in the United States,” Ritter and fellow lawmakers should beef up on the Colorado State Patrol’s immigration unit. He added in a press release that the state should consider requesting federal stimulus funding to step up law enforcement against illegal immigration.
“The safety of our citizens ought to be the governor’s paramount concern and should take precedence in budget matters — even in a down economy,” said a statement from Schultheis. “It’s time to reprioritize.”
But Julien Ross, executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, pointed to the recent state audit of Senate Bill 90 — legislation that requires law enforcement officers to notify U.S. Immigration when they have probable cause to believe that someone they have arrested is in an illegal immigrant — which found that a perpetrator’s immigration status has nothing to do with an inclination for criminal action. As a result, it would be misguided to call for increased state enforcement of federal immigration laws as a result of the recent drug bust because it would erode trust, not prevent crime.
“Research shows immigrants to be far less likely to commit crimes than native born citizens and to actually contribute to making neighborhoods safer,” said Ross in a statement. “Lawmakers concerned about the drug trade would be better served focusing on lessening the demand for drugs in their local district than scapegoating immigrants.”
Colorado “has a history of going easy on illegals” and is becoming known as a sanctuary state, countered Schultheis. He said in a press release that Ritter should support a bill he will again introduce next year to require Colorado employers to utilize the federal E-verify program.
Ritter’s office declined to comment.
Gone to pot
On Aug. 21, federal and local law enforcement officials seized approximately 14,500 live marijuana plants in the Pike National Forest in Jefferson County. The bust is believed to be the biggest outdoor marijuana growing operation ever caught by Colorado law enforcement.
As agents advanced on the grow site, an estimated seven to 10 people were seen running from the area. Their sleeping bags and food items were recovered at the site, and information developed during the investigation determined that Mexican migrant workers had been recruited from outside the state of Colorado to harvest the marijuana plants, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Two suspects associated with the marijuana grow location have been identified, but law enforcement agencies are not releasing any more information at this time, citing an ongoing investigation.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters