Immigration: The Search For Clarity

With comprehensive immigration reform a real possibility this year, we look at how our broken system affects Colorado—and how things could come into focus in the near future.

April 2013

During the past year, Colorado has worked its way to the center of the country’s ongoing immigration debate, a rather impolite discussion about the mismatch between what the federal government says our immigration laws are, how those laws are enforced, and how states must deal with the resulting realities. As the state with the 17th-highest population of immigrants in America, we may not rival Texas or California or Florida in sheer numbers, but with a senator who’s helping shape immigration reform, a university that defied the state Legislature on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a top 10 ranking for young immigrants seeking status, and a diverse economy that relies in part on foreign workers, the eyes of the country are yet again turning toward the Centennial State. • Over the course of several months, we spoke with business leaders, educators, advocacy groups, politicians, attorneys, immigrants, and undocumented immigrants to find out how this complex issue affects people along the Front Range. And, through an exclusive survey of 400 Denverites done in partnership with market research firm Resolution Research, we heard from you. The results of those conversations—as well as the outcomes of our immigration survey—unfold on the following pages.
In the News

Bennet’s Big Doings

Colorado’s junior senator is no longer playing small ball when it comes to immigration reform.

Over the past 30 minutes, the airy space of the 5th Sun Cafe & Lounge at the corner of Speer and Federal boulevards has become claustrophobic. More than 100 people—90 percent of them from the Latino community—have streamed into the now-crowded restaurant for a 12:30 p.m. presser with Senator Michael Bennet. The throng is mostly in a jovial mood, but it’s hard to ignore the key words and phrases—“racists,” the “trigger,” “unacceptable,” “not a crime”—that hang heavily in the air.

Although he was featured in a New York Times column for being one of only three Democratic senators to vote no on Obama’s fiscal cliff deal, Bennet has more recently been newsworthy for his inclusion in a high-profile group of bipartisan senators who put forth a framework for immigration reform. The so-called Gang of Eight—Senators Charles Schumer, John McCain, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, and Bennet—released its four-page outline on January 28. The group of concerned citizens at 5th Sun is here to listen to Bennet’s first Colorado-based speech since the senators’ plan became public.

The framework, which began receiving blowback from Republicans within hours of its release, calls for, among other things, a “tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants” that is contingent upon a more secure border; an effective employment verification system to bring an end to the hiring of unauthorized workers; and an improved process for admitting future workers to serve the country’s workforce needs. The group of senators hopes to move its framework through the Judiciary Committee by spring and onto the Senate floor by summer.

That may be a long shot. Early objections to the plan could sink it, as could any number of suggested alterations the original gang members have said they would oppose. Today, gruff opposition from the Latino community—which abhors the “trigger,” the provision that says a path to citizenship can only commence once the leaky border is secured—is another example of resistance that could derail the effort.
Bennet was one of the final additions to the Gang of Eight and one of the last signatories on the plan. It was Bennet’s Colorado Compact, a state-level effort promoting reasonable conversation about immigration issues, that gave him the credibility to join the group in mid-December 2012. “When I got this job in 2009,” Bennet says, “I began traveling all over the state, and the topic of immigration reform just kept coming up from different people in different ways.” In talking with peach growers, cattle ranchers, ski resort operators, and high-tech business owners, Bennet found that everyone was discussing immigration issues, but that none of those people were talking to one another. The senator thought creating a compact—he admits he stole the idea from Utah, which did something similar in 2010—might allow him to get disparate groups of Coloradans into one room to hear one another’s points. “The initial purpose was to move out of the political wasteland that is immigration reform and just talk,” Bennet says.

Those talks—more than 200 in all—led to the release of a six-principle document on December 10, 2012, that reads very much like an early draft of the Gang of Eight’s plan. “This state is complicated when it comes to immigration,” Bennet tells those at 5th Sun. “The Colorado Compact was useful in our discussions in Washington.”

But no matter how compelling Bennet’s compact is, the Constitution says immigration is a federal responsibility—and Bennet sees cause for optimism at that higher level. “There is bipartisan interest in the Senate in addressing immigration,” he says. “I think it’s genuine. Both parties believe we are creating a self-inflicted wound by not fixing this. Now we have to see if there is the will to do just that.”
5280 Immigration Survey

5280 partnered with Denver-based Resolution Research, a market research firm specializing in qualitative and quantitative research designed to gather market intelligence and opinions, to conduct our immigration survey. You can view the survey in its entirety at 5280.com. Resolution Research provides online panels; telephone, online, and social media surveys; focus groups; ethnography studies; clinical trials; mock juries; bulletin boards; and more. For more information or to participate in paid panels, visit resolutionresearch.com.