Group starts campaign to bar services to illegal immigrants
DENVER – Saying America “can only take so many,” an advocacy group announced Wednesday it will start gathering signatures to put a measure on the November ballot to deny many government services to illegal immigrants in Colorado.The proposed constitutional amendment would bar people who are in the country illegally from getting any state or local government services except emergency health care and education mandated by the federal government.Later Wednesday, Republican legislators outlined a series of bills designed to enlist local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws, punish companies that hire illegal immigrants and require school districts to record students’ immigration status.The two initiatives set the stage for what could be a bruising political battle this year.The constitutional amendment was proposed by Defend Colorado Now, whose members include former Gov. Dick Lamm, a Democrat.Lamm said the proposed amendment is not an attempt to “demonize” illegal immigrants.”This is a referendum on whether or not (illegal immigration) is acceptable to Coloradans,” he said.”We are trying to say, ‘Look, folks, this hurts the average Coloradan and this is a drain on your taxpayer dollars,”‘ Lamm said.Defend Colorado Now member Waldo Benavidez said the group feels sorry for immigrants trying for a better life, “but this country and this society can only take so many.””We just need to get control of our borders and let people come in the right way,” he said.Arizona and other states have limited illegal immigrants’ access to services, but it’s difficult to measure the effects, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.Krikorian’s group supports tighter immigration controls such as Defend Colorado Now’s proposal. He said such measures are designed to make it harder for illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.”The only way you can genuinely reduce illegal immigration is to turn off the magnets that pull people into the United States in the first place,” he said.Defend Colorado Now originally wanted to put its proposal on the 2004 ballot, but an unsuccessful court challenge delayed its plans.Fred Elbel, director of the group, said it needs about 68,000 valid signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot.
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