November 25, 2005
By CHARLES ASHBY, CHIEFTAIN DENVER BUREAU
Chieftain, Pueblo, CO
Photo: Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm
Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm has been saying it for years - that the state and the nation must do something about the growing number of illegal immigrants.
Now, Lamm and others are poised to get a citizens' initiative on next year's ballot that they hope would do just that.
For years Lamm, who served three terms as governor, has traveled around the state and the nation warning about the perils and pitfalls of the country's current immigration policies.
In a speech on immigration overpopulation at a Washington, D.C., conference earlier this year, Lamm satirically outlined eight ways on how to destroy America, much of which had to do with an open-door policy on immigration.
In that speech - and in others before and since - Lamm said the nation has turned a blind eye to the number of undocumented workers who are coming to the United States and, because of that blindness, are allowing a subculture to thrive that could one day bring the nation down.
"The history of American immigration is clearly a history of xenophobia, racism, nativism and all those other bad things," Lamm said in an interview on Friday. "But never before in our history have we taken such a disproportionate amount of immigrants from one linguistic group. That builds in a conflict that within five or 10 years is going to have some very dramatic ramifications."
In order to put a stop to all of that - and get Congress to focus more on the problem - Lamm has thrown his support behind a proposed Colorado constitutional amendment to ban all state services to undocumented workers except those already mandated by federal law, such as education and emergency medical care.
That ballot initiative, identical to one proposed last year that survived a court challenge but too late to get it on the 2004 ballot, is awaiting its title-setting hearing in the Colorado Secretary of State's office, said Evergreen resident William Herron, whose Defend Colorado Now organization is the force behind the measure. Herron said the measure is not only designed to prevent Colorado taxpayers from having to bear the cost of supporting illegal immigrants, but also to send a message to the rest of the nation that Colorado voters are tired of waiting for Congress to act.
"The biggest issue here is eligibility. I'm not asking for anything more than eligibility," he said. "If you are in any way working with state optional taxpayer funds, there needs to be verification that it's going to people who are lawfully here, citizens or legal immigrants. Just trying to keep people honest here.
"My objection to illegal immigration is multifold," Herron added. "What we're doing politically, socially is kind of a cancer. It's antithetic to the United States and our nation of laws."
Other states are doing the same thing.
Nearly 60 percent of Arizona voters recently approved a nearly identical ballot question. (The Colorado Legislature quickly killed a similar idea during this year's session, one that is expected to return when legislators reconvene in January.)
Meanwhile, the California General Assembly rejected its own version of the idea this summer, but proponents there have promised to take the proposal to the 2006 ballot. That state had approved a more sweeping anti-immigrant ban in 1994, but much of that measure, known as Proposition 187, was overturned by a federal judge.
Like those measures, the Colorado question would require all state and local governments to verify that a person is a U.S. citizen or is a legal resident of the state before offering them any services.
Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, the spokesman for the group, Keep Colorado Safe - which plans to oppose the ballot question - said that while his side agrees that something should be done about undocumented workers, this idea isn't it.
Gonzalez-Estay said the measure has a slew of unintended consequences, not the least of which would lead to increased costs to state and local governments in trying to enforce it.
"This is not something that's going to help Coloradans, and particular not solve some of the concerns individuals like Gov. Lamm wants, which is to eliminate all illegal immigration," he said. "This is not only going to encumber illegal immigrants, it's going to encumber all Coloradans. It's going to require Coloradans to show proof of citizenship for any service they ask for. It's just going to add more of a cost, and needless to say, lawsuits are going to be left and right on this. Any individual who offers a service (to an undocumented immigrant) could be sued under this."
The ballot question also would end up costing the state more money than proponents said it would save, Gonzalez-Estay said.
A fiscal analysis of House Bill 1271 introduced by Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, during the 2005 session, which was nearly identical to the proposed amendment, concluded that while the state would save approximately $460,000 a year in reduced benefits in family and children's programs and child welfare services, it would cost about $4.3 million to implement the bill.
Local governments also would incur increased costs, the analysis said.
Despite that, Schultheis has said he still plans to reintroduce that measure next year.
Lamm, who was governor from 1975 to 1987, said part of the problem that won't be addressed in Colorado's proposed ballot measure - but ultimately should be - centers on labor and the employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
He said that while the illegal hiring of undocumented workers may be cheaper for employers - because of low wages and no benefits - it amounts to subsidized labor for everyone else.
That's because taxpayers end up picking up the additional costs for educating children of illegal immigrants and providing the workers and their families with free health care, he said.
"This is an abused form of labor just like slavery was," said Lamm, who now is director of the Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues at the University of Denver.
"These are very expensive families to service and they pay very little taxes. If I could wave one magic wand on illegal immigration, it would be an employer sanction, but on a national level. I continue to naively believe that it's very possible Congress will do something in a couple of years. The cheap labor business and the open-border liberals have an awesome coalition in Washington to prevent anything from being done."
Lamm maintains that the average undocumented worker has two to four school-age children. At $7,000 a student, it costs approximately $210 million a year to educate the estimated 30,000 children of undocumented workers each year, he said.
He said because no real figures exist as to exactly how many illegal immigrants are in the state, there's no way to know for sure how much they cost Colorado hospitals in medical expenses, costs that are ultimately shifted to paying patients.
Lamm, who has targeted the illegal immigration issue for more than two decades, also said that the hiring of undocumented workers drives down U.S. wages because businesses that don't break the law are forced to pay lower wages in order to compete.
Lamm co-authored the book, "Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America," in 1985, noting the danger of allowing too many immigrants into the nation, particularly if they're from a single ethnic group. Despite that early warning, people are only now starting to listen, he said.
Even though as a Democrat the former governor has often championed racial fairness issues, Lamm also has often been called a racist because of his opinions on illegal immigration.
But he sees that as a mere tactic that his detractors use to try to stymie a real discussion on the matter.
"This has been a very effective weapon up to now because people haven't spoken out on this is because of a fear of being called a racist," Lamm said. "But it's just a strategy of the other side . . . and the other side isn't going to stop, because they've found they can intimidate people from talking about this issue that way. It's a terribly unfair strategy."