- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

DENVER — The Colorado legislature approved late Monday a package of illegal-immigration bills touted by Gov. Bill Owens and Democrats as the toughest in the nation but criticized by some Republicans as a cave-in.

The bills, approved at the end of a heated five-day special session, deny nonemergency state services to illegal aliens and tighten requirements on employers to verify the legal status of their workers.

The legislature also agreed to place two initiatives on the November ballot. The first asks voters whether the attorney general should sue the federal government to demand enforcement of immigration laws.

The second measure would deny tax benefits to businesses that deliberately hire illegal aliens.

The legislative package, combined with a measure against human smuggling that was approved earlier this year, puts Colorado alongside Georgia and Arizona at the forefront of state immigration reform, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

“It’s certainly one of the toughest immigration-enforcement packages in the nation,” Mr. Krikorian said.

Even so, many Republican legislators left the session feeling they had missed an opportunity and had been betrayed by Mr. Owens, who brokered the deal with leaders of the Democratic majority.

“In the end, we blinked,” said Republican state Rep. Al White. “We caved to business interests which were concerned that if we did anything substantive it would dry up their illegal-immigrant pool.”

Mr. Owens originally backed Mr. White’s bill, which would have required workers to produce a state driver’s license or identification card, but pulled his support, said Mr. White, after meeting with home builders and business representatives.

Republicans had sought unsuccessfully to have voters decide on a constitutional amendment denying benefits to illegal aliens. They worried that the statutes could be overturned easily by a new legislature or governor.

They also noted that the bills included several exceptions, including one for illegal aliens younger than 18.

“I feel as though immigration reformers in Colorado had the bases loaded with nobody out and we put one pathetic run across home plate,” said John Andrews, co-chairman of Defend Colorado Now.

Republicans also saw the session as a chance to expose the Democratic Party’s weakness on the issue by pushing for a strong ballot measure. Instead, they said, the compromise allows Democrats running for re-election to promote themselves as immigration reformers, even though they opposed the more stringent measures.

“A huge opportunity to change policy and put Democrats in the hole politically was largely squandered,” Mr. Andrews said.

His co-chairman at Defend Colorado Now, former Democratic Gov. Richard Lamm, praised the governor for pushing through the package, arguing that it was better to have laws on the books now than a ballot proposal in November.

“Colorado comes out of this with either the No. 1 or No. 2 toughest program of laws in the nation,” Mr. Lamm said. “The Republicans wanted something to put on the ballot to drive up voter turnout, and I can appreciate that. But I didn’t want to pass up the chance for real legislation.”

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