Colorado is making its presence known on immigration policy, both at the U.S. Supreme Court and on Capitol Hill. State officials delivered updates on both of those fronts at a business-focused gathering in Denver.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet delivered remarks to business leaders who convened for the Colorado Compact on Immigration. Weiser issued his reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent activity on blockbuster immigration cases, and the senators relayed their hopes to get bipartisan immigration reform passed in Congress.
The Colorado Business Roundtable, an organization that advocates for pro-business policies in the state, held the event June 25 at Metro State College in Denver. The event sought to galvanize activity among Colorado’s business leaders, who are grappling with uncertainty surrounding whether they can continue employing many of the immigrants in the state’s workforce, among other issues.
Formed in 2012, the Colorado Compact called on Congress to legislate comprehensive immigration reform. Bipartisan lawmakers, business leaders and other stakeholders collaborated to develop “principles” Congress should follow in drafting and passing immigration laws. Similar compacts formed in other states including Arizona and Utah.
Weiser praised the “collaborative problem-solving” of the Colorado Compact, “which is how we roll here in Colorado” on issues from water rights to the opioid epidemic, he said.
The attorney general gave his reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on the census citizenship question and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Colorado, one of the 16 plaintiff states on the lawsuit against the Department of Commerce, was on the winning side of the Supreme Court’s June 24 census decision. The court voted 5-4 to block Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross from adding a citizenship question on the 2020 census, a plan the department has since abandoned.
“Are we going to count everyone as the Constitution requires … or are we going to allow contrived partisan purposes to infect the census, to lead to an undercount by demonizing and scaring immigrants?” Weiser told attendees. “That would hurt Colorado because we need everyone here counted to get the representation that we’re entitled to and the money we’re entitled to.”
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced the 2020 census forms will not be printed with the citizenship question.
The Supreme Court breathed new life into the Trump administration’s effort to end the DACA program, however, announcing it would review a consolidated group of lower court decisions that blocked the administration from doing so.
Under the 2012 Obama-era program, a section of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children can apply for virtual protection from deportation.
“In yet another political game, [DACA recipients] are now being threatened with deportation,” Weiser said. Colorado joined a lawsuit in March challenging the administration, he added, to “protect due process, which says when you tell someone one thing, and you get information from them for one purpose, you don’t turn around and misuse it.”
While Weiser addressed Colorado’s immigration cases before the high court, Gardner talked about representing Colorado on immigration reform in Congress.
“We must continue to fight together for common-sense immigration reform with Republicans and Democrats,” Gardner told the audience.
Gardner recounted being part of the 2018 “Gang of Six” bipartisan legislators, along with his Democratic counterpart, Bennet. The group proposed immigration reform that included border security funding, protecting DACA recipients, and adding judges to the immigration courts to help shoulder the backlog of more than 800,000 pending immigration cases.
The bill came within six votes of passing in the Senate. “I fight and search each and every day to find those remaining six votes so that we can pass this legislation and begin this incredibly important fix,” Gardner said. He co-sponsored the DREAM Act in the last Congress and said he will do it again this Congress, noting there are more than 17,000 DACA recipients in Colorado. The House of Representatives passed the latest version of the act June 5.
Bennet, who was in the Democratic presidential primary debate the night before, wasn’t present for the event but recorded a video message. He was one of the collaborators in the original 2012 Colorado Compact, which he said imported principles into the “Gang of Eight” bill introduced the following year. The bill passed in the Senate but died in the House of Representatives.
“I have no doubt that the next time that we have the opportunity to legislate on this subject in Washington … these principles will be the core of that legislation just as they got into the legislation in 2013,” Bennet said in the recording.
Hikmet Ersek, Western Union’s president and CEO, rounded out the keynote speakers. He addressed immigration reform as a means to ensure businesses have a “diverse workforce.”
“As a global businessman with 12,000 employees in 37 countries and 150 million customers in 200 countries, I can tell you that the need for sensible immigration policies has never been greater,” Ersek said.
Born in Turkey to an Austrian mother and a Turkish father, Ersek decried the “one-dimensional picture” many Americans have of immigrants that he said impedes productive conversation about policy.
Ersek said business leaders should call on their politicians to provide “sensible immigration reform that ensures the labor we need, expands our customer base and offers economic security to people who are willing to work hard.”
— Doug Chartier