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Colorado takes on immigration

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jul 11, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The House and Senate are still trying to figure out what they’d like to do on immigration. But Colorado has cut right to the chase. Democratic lawmakers and the state’s Republican governor agreed last night on a bill that might be the toughest immigration law in the country. Residents asking for public assistance, Medicaid, food stamps or unemployment will have to prove they’re in the country legally. Ashley Milne-Tyte has that story.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: No one testifying at the hearings could pin down exactly how much Colorado loses to benefits fraud each year. But former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm believes it’s plenty. He says about a million Colorado residents claim benefits.

RICHARD LAMM: We have strong evidence that there is much abuse by illegal immigrants. We just don’t check. We ask people are they citizens and even if they don’t speak English, they will say often “Yes.”

The requirement to show ID comes into effect on August 1st. But Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies says the law won’t be that effective in cutting costs associated with illegal immigration. He says relatively few immigrants claim public assistance:

STEVEN CAMAROTA: What they use are things like emergency medical care, which this bill doesn’t cover, or they sign their US-born children up for a host of social programs like Medicaid, food stamps, WIC . . . But again, this bill doesn’t affect those things.

He says either you enforce the law and have undocumented immigrants leave the country, or accept the costs that come with having them here. John Straayer teaches political science at Colorado State University. He says Colorado has no more reason to be in the vanguard on immigration laws than California or Arizona. But this is the state of Congressman Tom Tancredo, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration. The issue is a big political football in an election year:

JOHN STRAAYER: I think pretty much everybody in the capital agrees — the people I talked to, and members and lobbyists alike — they, you know . . . this is basically a political charade.

And how it will play out with voters will only become clear during the elections in November.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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