DENVER — Given this week’s intense focus so far on five Democratic gun control measures that passed the full Senate Monday and a historic civil unions bill that passed the full House Tuesday, it’s no surprise that no one has paid much attention to the introduction of House Bill 1258.
But the bill — a controversial immigration proposal with 2014 political implications — won’t be anonymous for long.
The legislation aims to repeal a controversial 2006 law, Senate Bill 90, which requires local law enforcement to report anyone arrested for a criminal offense who is suspected of being an undocumented immigrant to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The chiefs of police, the sheriffs and other public safety groups all agree that building community trust is the number one factor in successful local policing,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, the bill’s House sponsor. “This bill will make communities safer by allowing law enforcement to build that all-important trust with immigrant communities.”
The legislation, which has the support of the County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, would remove a reporting requirement that many local public safety agencies view as a burden.
“Colorado’s sheriffs want to focus our time and resources on protecting the public, not on unwanted federal responsibilities,” said Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson.
Supporters plan to argue that H.B. 1258 will save the state a lot of money and go a long way toward preventing racial profiling that disproportionately impacts the Hispanic community.
Politics not so simple
For Democrats, the politics of the bill aren’t as simple as they seem.
While repealing the 2006 law will curry additional favor with an increasingly large Latino voting bloc that’s already helping Democrats immeasurably, it also casts new light on one state lawmaker who oversaw its passage, former Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.
Romanoff is now challenging GOP Congressman Mike Coffman for his 6th District seat that includes Aurora, home to a high percentage of Latinos. He, along with about half of the House Democratic caucus, voted for but was not a sponsor of Senate Bill 90, which passed during the regular legislative session, not the special session the same year called by Gov. Bill Owens to address immigration issues.
“I think our state was struggling, as so many states are, in the absence of federal action,” Romanoff told FOX31 Denver Wednesday, when asked about his vote. “The best way to repair America’s broken immigration system is to pass comprehensive reform at a federal level.”
Romanoff said that Colorado’s implementation last May of Secure Communities, a federal program aimed at catching law-breaking undocumented immigrants by checking fingerprints of those arrested with federal immigration data, makes Senate Bill 90 redundant.
“I support repealing it now because it’s redundant, and because we’ve heard from a lot of local law enforcement agencies who say it’s a burden,” he said.
Asked if he believes in Secure Communities, Romanoff told FOX31 he’s taking more time to study the issue and to hear from law enforcement agencies and stakeholders on different sides of the debate.
Coffman, who replaced noted immigration hawk Tom Tancredo in Congress in 2009 and has heretofore embodied the GOP’s hard line on the issue, is reversing course, announcing last month that he supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who are living in the U.S. illegally.
Coffman, now representing a re-drawn district that is forcing him to court Latino voters, has already shown signs of running against Romanoff from the left on the immigration issue.
Romanoff defeating Coffman is critical to the Democrats’ chances of winning back a majority in the U.S. House in next November’s mid-term elections.