Agencies assess the impactsof state immigration reform | PostIndependent.com
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Agencies assess the impactsof state immigration reform

Immigration reforms in Colorado are more fluff than substance, but are creating fear among those who have moved here from other countries as well as unintended consequences for U.S. citizens, officials said Wednesday.”We are seeing some impacts but the impact is not on the immigrant population, it is anyone who comes in and applies for benefits,” said Lynn Renick, director of Garfield County’s Human Services Department.The reason is the difficulty some citizens are having trouble proving their eligibility for benefits, she said.Renick and other representatives of social services, police and other agencies spoke during a luncheon in Glenwood Springs focusing on how the new laws are affecting the area.The event was presented by the Community Integration Initiative, a group seeking to help immigrants and established residents better understand one another and become more connected to their communities.Several of the speakers said the specific legal ramifications of the reforms passed by the Colorado legislature in a special session this summer are minimal. But other ramifications are more widespread.”A lot of this legislation has not been as sinister as it did appear,” said David Adamson, executive director of Mountain Family Health Center in Glenwood Springs.But he said lawmakers accomplished their real goal, “which is to scare the hell out of a lot of people.””People are running really scared,” said Marie Munday, Latino-Anglo liaison with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.It’s not just this summer’s reforms, but actions such as this week’s raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which resulted in the detention of 34 immigrants in the Roaring Fork Valley. Munday said a lot of immigrants stayed home from work Tuesday and didn’t send their children to school after the raid began the previous day.Local law enforcement agencies worry that Colorado’s tougher immigration laws could cause some immigrants to be afraid to contact police about crimes. “Whether you’re here the right way or not, if you’re a victim of crime we want to help you,” said Garfield Sheriff Lou Vallario.He also hopes that local police properly understand a new state law requiring that they notify ICE when they arrest someone for a misdemeanor or felony but don’t put them in jail.”It doesn’t say we throw people in jail for this,” said Vallario.That would create an overcrowding problem in the county jail, he said. Instead, ICE wants to be notified so it can gather statistics regarding immigrants, he said.Vallario sees value in a new law that will train Colorado State Patrol officers for specific duty in investigating suspected smuggling of illegal immigrants.”Nobody wants to see human trafficking. Nobody wants to see people exploited, which is exactly what we have going on here,” he said.But he thinks some of this summer’s reforms amount to “feel-good” legislation.Other officials shared similar views Wednesday, while adding that it may take time to assess the full ramifications of the reforms. But Renick already is seeing the impacts on citizens unable to obtain aid because they don’t have documents such as birth certificates.”I think it is causing additional stress and delay in getting needed benefits to people,” she said.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said few illegal immigrants were obtaining such benefits in the past, so the bill tightening documentation requirements was mostly symbolic. “In fact, we worked on solving a problem that didn’t seem to be there in the first place,” she said.She said the legislative reforms, which also target employers of illegal immigrants, hit the Roaring Fork Valley as hard as anywhere in the state because of its dire need for workers. But she was told the state has no authority to pursue guest worker legislation to address those needs.Sally Brands, owner of a Rifle construction company, said it’s particularly hard to get foundations poured, between a cement shortage and the state immigration crackdown’s effect on the concrete industry, which relies heavily on immigrant workers. And other construction workers, from carpenters to plumbers to electricians, can’t work when there is no foundation to build on, she said.Heather McGregor, communications director for the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based think tank that focuses on issues including immigration, said this summer’s reforms might be better than the alternative. She said the legislature passed them in an attempt to head off ballot initiatives that would have sought more punitive, divisive immigration reforms.”We would have been in the middle of a campaign season right now that, frankly, I think would have been quite ugly,” she said. Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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