July 11, 2006

Colorado headed toward tougher laws for immigrants

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Colorado is heading toward
enacting some of the toughest U.S. state laws limiting the
rights of illegal immigrants as it struggles to accommodate a
large Latino labor force and calls from conservatives for a
crackdown, top state lawmakers said on Tuesday.

Colorado's Democrat-led legislature passed a package of
bills late on Monday night in hopes of ending a months-long
legislative tussle ahead of November elections. Republican Gov.
Bill Owens is expected to sign most of the bills, spokesman
Nate Strauch said.

One bill seeks to limit state services to undocumented
immigrants, a move state lawmakers believe will appease voters
who believe immigrants are drain on state coffers.

Two of the bills authorized ballot measures for the
November election. One would bar firms in Colorado that hire
undocumented workers from receiving state tax credits and the
other would require the state attorney general to sue the
federal government to enforce immigration laws.

"There are undoubtedly political motivations afoot but
there is a real policy problem at the heart of the debate,"
Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff said in a telephone
interview, noting his state is home to an estimated 250,000
illegal immigrants.

Their presence has been a long-standing concern for
Republicans in the legislature's minority, who have clamored
for a tough line mirroring policies urged by Colorado U.S.
House Rep. Tom Tancredo.

Tancredo has taken a strong stance against illegal
immigration, clashing with fellow Republican and President
George W. Bush, who is urging tougher policing of the U.S.
border with Mexico while offering a path to citizenship for the
more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United

Many state Republican lawmakers had hoped to pass
Tancredo-inspired bills. Democrats who did not want Republicans
to steer the special session on illegal immigration but who
were under fire from Latino activists toned down bills.

"In the end it was a bipartisan solution," state Senate
President Joan Fitz-Gerald said in a phone interview. "We'll be
able to look back and say we passed good legislation."

Fitz-Gerald noted the session's centerpiece bill would
require applicants for public benefits to prove they are legal
residents of Colorado. Children, however, would be exempted.

Tancredo offered qualified praise but urged a harder line
against firms hiring illegal aliens.

"Going after social service benefits is a first step but
does not complete the march to a Colorado free of illegal
entries," he said in a statement. "Without employer sanctions,
Colorado certainly does not have the toughest law against
illegal aliens in the country, as its proponents claim."