DENVER–Until this week, nobody would have confused Sen. Michael Bennet with former Rep. Tom Tancredo, but now the Democratic senator is jockeying to become Colorado’s next major player on the issue of illegal immigration.
Bennet was the driver behind this week’s unveiling of the Colorado Compact, a six-point document that calls for federal action on immigration reform.
Signers include former Republican Sen. Hank Brown, business interests, educators, union leaders and immigrant-rights activists.
“It’s a grassroots effort of people that are dealing with the consequences of our broken system of immigration everyday and who have come together in a totally nonpartisan way to say, ‘in Colorado, we know how to fix problems we do it every single day and the Federal government ought to do it too,’” Bennet said Sunday at a press event at the University of Denver.
Bennet is scheduled to follow up Wednesday with a press teleconference featuring Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who helped draw up the Utah Compact, a similar immigration-reform document.
Both compacts are intended to take a more illegal immigrant-friendly approach to the issue than Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which requires law enforcement to ask about the immigration status of suspected undocumented aliens detained for other violations.
The Colorado Compact’s six points are: federal responsibility for immigration policy; using the visa system to meet market demands; ensuring national security; keeping families together; focusing law enforcement on serious crime, and creating a “path forward” for illegal immigrants.
“Our immigration policies must provide a sensible path forward for immigrants who are here without legal status, are of good character, pay taxes, and are committed to becoming fully participating members of our society and culture,” says the compact summary.
Nothing in the compact is especially groundbreaking from a policy perspective, but the political timing couldn’t be better. After their drubbing in November, Some Republicans may never be more anxious to reach a truce on immigration issues than they are now.
Several prominent Republicans, including Attorney General John Suthers and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, have endorsed the compact, and their cooperation allows Bennet to put a bipartisan tag on the document.
“The time has come for the federal government to take serious action on the issue of Immigration,” said Buck in a statement. “While people of different political persuasions may not agree on the exact solutions, we need to be willing to have meaningful conversations . . . the Colorado Compact provides a framework for these important discussions.”
One Republican who didn’t sign the compact is Tancredo, who said the document fails to address how to stem illegal immigration. The Republican ex-congressman was known for his tough stance on border security during his five terms in Congress and his run for the Republican presidential nomination.
“It’s a platitudinous document, worded in a way so to make it difficult to say there’s anything wrong with it,” said Tancredo. “But if you try to figure out what’s meant by it in terms of public policy, you would have to conclude it’s a document to ensure the steady flow of Democrats into the country to supply cheap labor for the Chamber of Commerce.”
He noted that immigration reform has never been a true Democrat-Republican issue in that business interests, led by agriculture, have long supported looser immigration rules that allow more farm labor from south of the border.
“This gives Republicans some cover on the issue, I guess, but one thing about which I am positive is that anything Republicans do in the way of softening on the immigration issue will not accrue to their political advantage,” said Tancredo.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., said the compact fails to address issues such as the high cost of unchecked illegal immigration on the social-services network, the bill for which is ultimately absorbed by taxpayers.
The group estimates the annual cost of illegal immigration at $113 billion per year, mainly in costs related to public education, law enforcement and health care.
“It [the compact] includes something for immigration advocates and those who want to hire immigrants cheaply, but nothing for the rest of the nation, which is a slight omission,” said Mehlman. “But this is an indication of what we’re seeing throughout the country.”
More details on the Colorado Compact can be found at www.coloradocompact.com.