Problems Facing the First Generation of Local Immigration Laws
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Colorado made national headlines in 2006 when it passed a series of controversial measures requiring applicants for most state benefits to prove legal immigration status before obtaining that benefit. Signed by out-going Governor Bill Owens, the law makes proof of legal immigration status a prerequisite to obtaining most forms of public assistance (for example, disability payments) and state-issued licenses for professionals and commercial enterprises (for example, licenses for insurance agents and physicians). The law also requires Colorado employers to verify their employees' legal immigration status or risk hefty fines (up to $5000 for a first offense and up to $25,000 for subsequent offenses). Described by proponents as the toughest immigration reform package in the country, the law was passed with great fanfare. Governor Owens predicted that the law would remove as many as 50,000 undocumented immigrants from the state's public benefit rolls, moving Colorado into "the forefront of immigration reform." Yet a year after the law's enactment, Colorado had very little to show for its efforts. Instead, bureaucratic problems, lack of funding, and legislative inaction have converged to stymie the law's effectiveness. Consider these facts: As of August 2007, state government offices in Colorado reported spending $2 million to comply with the legal status requirements for state aid, but could not identify any savings as a result of that compliance. The departments could not say how many, if any, undocumented immigrants were being denied state-funded services as a result of the law. Similarly, the Division of Registrations (within the Department of Regulatory Agencies), responsible for overseeing 290,000 professional licenses, had not revoked any professional licenses because of residency issues, and the Department of Labor and Employment had not audited any employers under the law. Furthermore, the Attorney General, charged with prosecuting those who forge employment documents, requested but did not receive funding to enforce this law. The problems that Colorado experienced are not uncommon among jurisdictions implementing local immigration laws. Yet public attention continues to focus on the successful enactment of these laws, largely ignoring their often problematic implementation. The purpose of this Article is to shed light on the problems that many of these first-generation local immigration laws are experiencing and to consider, briefly, the implications of these problems for local immigration enforcement generally. It should be noted that this Article is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of all local immigration laws. The huge number of such laws and the rapid pace at which the laws are proposed, enacted, amended, or rescinded would make such a survey very difficult to draft. Nor does this Article make the claim that all local immigration laws have experienced implementation problems. Rather, by analyzing the experience of local governments that have experienced problems, this Article seeks a more complete understanding of local immigration implementation.
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