Lamm leads charge to stop illegal immigration
Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects, but he acknowledged during a presentation Friday in Aspen that immigration reform is a tough topic to tackle.”There is a political correctness in America that makes it difficult to discuss some of these problems,” he said.The country takes great pride in its reputation as a melting pot that was built, at least in part, by immigration. That’s why some people squirm over Lamm’s latest passion, stopping illegal immigration. “It sounds so selfish and un-American,” he said.But for Lamm, the issue is black and white. Current levels of immigration will boost the U.S. population to 1 billion by the turn of the century, nearly four times the current level, he said. Without immigration reform, Colorado’s population will explode to between 16 million and 20 million.”It’s unthinkable to me to have 16 to 20 million people in Colorado,” he said.Therefore, he’s helping organize and lead efforts by a group called Defend Colorado Now, whose aim is to stop illegal entry into the country. The citizens coalition is gathering signatures to try to place a question on the November ballot to indirectly stop illegal immigration.
The question would prohibit the state from giving public aid to illegal immigrants, except services required by federal law. If approved, the children of illegal immigrants would still get free education from kindergarten through 12th grade in public schools, as well as emergency medical care.But welfare programs like food stamps would be eliminated. Private organizations using state funds, like public grants, would be prohibited from offering services to illegal immigrants.This proposal wouldn’t affect legal immigration, although Lamm made it clear he feels the number of people officially allowed into the country must be curbed.Defend Colorado Now started collecting signatures last month. It needs 68,000 to force the issue onto the November ballot. The group is shooting for 100,000 signatures. (Information about the initiative can be found at http://www.DefendColoradoNow.org.)Aspenite Mike McGarry, director of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, said most Americans feel the federal government has abdicated its responsibilities to prevent illegal entry into the country. States are taking on the issue by default, said McGarry, a supporter of the ballot initiative.He told members of the Friday Luncheon, an Aspen group that meets each week to talk about political, social and business issues, that getting a ballot issue passed will be difficult. Opponents of the proposed ballot initiative have already “raised millions” of dollars, McGarry said.
Lamm is optimistic that people will support the reform once they learn about the consequences of illegal immigration. The points he highlighted during the presentation at Jimmy’s restaurant and bar included: The cost of providing public services to families of illegal immigrants is too much of a burden. He said $10,000 is spent per year on a public school education for a child. That education cannot be withheld from children of illegal immigrants.Lamm contended income tax revenues from illegal workers don’t offset costs like education. Illegal workers pay little or no withholding tax, he said.”This isn’t cheap labor. This is subsidized labor,” Lamm said. The impact of caring for illegal immigrants is even more severe on hospitals, Lamm said. Programs like universal health care aren’t feasible because of the millions of illegal workers in the country. He said an estimated 8 percent of the U.S. work force is in the country illegally. Research indicates the presence of those workers reduces wages by between 6 and 8 percent, according to Lamm.
The proposed ballot question doesn’t tackle the issue of what to do with the illegal immigrants already in the state. Lamm said it is a tricky issue.”You can’t round them up and throw them out,” he said. But he also opposes amnesty, saying that would be like “flashing a big billboard saying we don’t enforce our borders.””Whatever we do, we want to do it compassionately,” Lamm said.And, ever the realist, he also made it clear he doesn’t fault people from trying to get into the U.S. illegally.”If I were in Mexico, I’d try to get to the U.S.,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org