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Debate Over Legal Status

Business, immigration reform and immigrant rights groups all seem skeptical of a proposal that would require all Colorado businesses to use a federal database to verify the legal residential status of new hires.
Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Jefferson County Republican, has proposed a 2010 ballot initiative that would require the state Legislature to mandate that businesses use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration and residential status of all potential new workers.
But critics — some of whom are regularly divided on immigration reform issues — all seem to agree that the system is flawed. They have their different reasons, but in the end the groups believe that E-Verify does not accomplish what it is intended to accomplish.
On the immigrant rights side, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition is concerned that requiring businesses to use E-Verify would lead to racial profiling and error.
On the immigration control side, the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform also points to the potential for error, arguing that the federal E-Verify system is not foolproof, and local businesses would be better served using the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles database to confirm legal residential status.
Stan Weekes, director of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, a group that raises caution flags over explosions in immigration, said DMV databases are much more complete because they include data such as biometric information. He adds that Colorado residents are already required to obtain a form of state identification — which is managed by the DMV — in order to legally work in the state after 30 days. He argues it would be relatively simple to connect the database to a verification system for employers to use.
“It seems to be a logical extension of a state-control issue,” he said. “It just seems logical to me to rely on our own resources here rather than be subject to the whims of the federal government.”
But the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition does not support even a state-level residential status verification system, arguing that any immigration reform efforts must take place on the federal level, not by the states themselves.
“Any kind of piecemeal — certainly state- and municipal-level legislation — that attempts to enforce what is a federal area of law — it’s ineffective at doing anything but terrorizing communities, causing more confusion and spending more taxpayer dollars at trying to enforce what has been a broken and outdated system for over a decade now,” said Chandra Russo, spokeswoman for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Her group is calling for comprehensive reform on the federal level that provides undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.
She adds that the E-Verify system has had instances of technical glitches and human error that has resulted in some legal residents having to wait long periods of time to work, or even losing their jobs.
In Arizona, however, such arguments were made during legal attempts to overturn a similar law there. But the law has survived several court challenges. Tancredo said he modeled his proposal after the Arizona law.
Business groups in the past have strongly opposed requiring employers to use the E-Verify system. While the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has not taken an active stance on Tancredo’s proposal because the proposed initiative must still pass several steps before being certified for the ballot, a spokeswoman for the organization indicated that business owners would likely object to the mandate portion of the initiative.
“In general, the Denver Metro Chamber does not support employer mandates,” said Amanda Arthur, spokeswoman for the organization.
Russo also points to the possibility of racial profiling if Tancredo’s proposal makes it to the ballot and is backed by voters.
“It is open to issues of racial profiling in the sense that you have Anglo folks who maybe aren’t too super familiar with the ways in which Latino names work,” she said, pointing out that many Latino names include both maternal and paternal last names. “Those are confused often times with Arabic or Muslim names, you have duplicate names — those also get confused.”

Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters

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