By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Requiring people to prove their U.S. citizenship when getting a job, boarding an airplane or opening a bank account would drastically cut back on illegal immigration in the country, former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm said Tuesday.
“I really think in a time of terrorism, that makes a lot of sense,” he said.
But not everyone is on board. Chandra Russo of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, for one, thinks that the government should instead broadly legalize all undocumented immigrants in the country. A broad legalization would create more jobs and bring more revenue into the tax system and economy — approximately $1.5 trillion over several years — she said.
“When we ramp up enforcement, we don’t curb immigration; we just make it more dangerous,” she said.
Lamm Tuesday addressed approximately 40 people at the City Club of Denver’s weekly meeting. Since leaving office in 1987, Lamm, a Democrat while serving three terms as Colorado governor, has spoken numerous times on illegal immigration.
Recipe for disaster?
Lamm said that the United States creating no new net jobs in the past nine years yet taking in 10 million immigrants into the country is a recipe for disaster. The country should focus on its own poor and doesn’t need to take in more people, he argued.
Lamm wants to see something like the E-Verify system be applied to people at airports, banks, and be required for people looking to get a job. He believes such a system along with a reliable identification card would dramatically cut down illegal immigration.
United States employers are currently able to use an E-Verify system operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to check whether an employee or potential employee is a legal U.S. resident. For most employers, the use of E-Verify is voluntary and limited to determining the employment eligibility of new hires only.
Russo blasted the current E-Verify system as an often-biased database that doesn’t work. She said the database is based more on race than immigration, and that she knows people who “can’t get jobs because of an E-Verify system that’s not serving anyone.”
Legislature to act?
Because the country is polarized on the issue of illegal immigration and federal lawmakers are wary of taking on another hot button issue after the contentious health care reform debate, Lamm doesn’t foresee comprehensive immigration reform being tackled anytime soon.
However, proponents of immigration reform that would provide undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship said last week that they think they will be able to convince Congress to make the issue a priority this year. A rally was held in Aurora last week, one of many held nationwide, to show support for a proposal by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.
Gutierrez’s proposal would legalize an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants by requiring them to learn English, pay a $500 fine, pass background checks and register with the federal government.
A similar proposal was pushed in 2007 by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which was supported by President George W. Bush. It sought tougher border controls and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Obama supported the legislation, but Bush’s fellow Republicans in Congress killed the proposal.
Gonzales, however, believes the political atmosphere has shifted and that proponents will have better success this year, especially with the economic downturn.
“Every single day that we go without comprehensive immigration reform is a day that we lose our opportunity to see the economic benefits and the economic return that legalization would have on our communities,” she said.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters