Colorado’s state and local governments exist to serve and benefit all Coloradans. Unfortunately, throughout our state’s history, policymakers have too often built and reinforced barriers that keep some Coloradans from benefiting equally from public services.
Several laws passed during the 2006 special legislative session are perfect examples of where policymakers built stronger barriers.
Earlier that year, the Colorado Supreme Court held up a proposed ballot initiative denying all but emergency and federally-required services to people who are undocumented. The governor called a special session addressing immigration in light of the court’s ruling. The legislature ultimately passed several bipartisan bills that did not go as far as the ballot measure.
One bill passed that year, HB06S-1023, requires state and local governments to verify the lawful presence of applicants in Colorado for federal, state and local public benefits. Lawful presence essentially means that the person is allowed to live in the United States under federal immigration laws. That 2006 measure also has specific exemptions for services that meet people’s basic needs and support public health.
In practice, HB06S-1023 has been a solution in search of a problem. If accessing a public benefit means that a person must verify lawful presence, it’s simply too risky for a person who is undocumented, and for that person’s family, to apply. Because state and local agencies must already carry out these verifications under federally-funded programs, HB06S-1023 is largely duplicative.
HB06S-1023 has also placed burdens on Colorado’s nonprofit organizations. State and local governments commonly form partnerships with nonprofits to deliver publicly-funded services. A 2006 memorandum from the Colorado attorney general indicated that a state or local government agency may require a third-party, non-governmental agency to verify lawful presence on its behalf.
As a result, the 2006 measure has put many nonprofits that receive state or local government grants in the position of collecting personal data and acting as arms of immigration enforcement.
For most nonprofits, a person’s immigration status has almost nothing to do with eligibility for services. But when a nonprofit must ask questions about immigration status for certain publicly-funded programs, people who are undocumented will be wary of the other programs offered by the nonprofit.
Expecting people to easily tell the difference between publicly and privately-funded programs offered by a nonprofit is not reasonable.
Neither the legislation nor the memo required that state and local government agencies provide additional funding to reimburse nonprofits for the costs of these verifications. If government agencies do not reimburse these costs in grant agreements, then nonprofits pay these costs with the dollars they raise from donors and foundations.
This year, state legislators have an opportunity to remove this redundant and discriminatory law from the books. By passing Senate Bill 199, which has passed the state Senate and is now before the House, the Colorado General Assembly can undo HB 06S-1023.
If SB 199 becomes law, it would not change requirements for state and local agencies to verify lawful presence under federally-funded programs. Nor would it limit the ability of state and local governments to pass laws and regulations as needed to verify a person’s identity and immigration status when applying for public benefits.
By passing SB 199, Colorado’s policymakers can halt spending donor and taxpayer dollars on unnecessary immigration checks and re-focus their energy on nationwide immigration reform.
Immigrants pay taxes and make essential contributions to the well-being of Colorado. Removing legal barriers to their economic opportunities will only benefit our state.
Mark Turner is the senior director of public policy for Colorado Nonprofit Association.
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