DENVER (AP) – House Republicans advanced a proposal Monday to fine Colorado employers who fail to show proof their workers are in the country legally, but deleted portions of the bill that immigrant advocates feared would criminalize friends and relatives of illegal immigrants.
The Republican sponsor made the last minute changes to the bill, expressing concerns of the costs associated with the legislation. In its original form, it would have made it a misdemeanor to conceal illegal immigrants or “recklessly” disregard their status. The bill provided exceptions for emergency responders or child protective services workers.
“It basically seeks to criminalize friends and loved ones of undocumented immigrants,” Hans Meyer, the policy director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said before the hearing.
Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said his proposal is about jobs and making sure immigrants who came here lawfully are the ones who get them. After he amended his bill, the only provisions that remained would require employers to provide proof to the state’s labor department that employees are in the country legally. Employers would be fined $5,000 for first offense and $25,000 for second offense.
“This is about jobs and the economy, period. And yes, being here legally whether you’re an immigrant or whether you’re a citizen,” Baumgardner said before the hearing. He said later he changed the bill because it would cost more than $2.8 million next fiscal year to enforce. House Bill 1309 now goes to the full House for consideration.
Republicans have introduced several immigration enforcement bills this session. While they have had some success in getting bills out of the House, where they have a one-vote advantage, their proposals don’t get far in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Baumgardner pushed another Arizona-style crack down on illegal immigration earlier this year but he shelved his bill over concerns that the proposal would be challenged in court.
No one from the public testified in support of Baumgardner’s latest proposal.
Jessie Ulibarri, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado, said his organization opposed the bill despite the changes. He said immigration enforcement is the federal government’s job.
“Just as a matter of course, we oppose state-level immigration laws because it creates a patchwork of unfair laws that undermine our constitutional rights and liberties,” he said.
Other provisions in the bill, before it was amended, sought to stop human smuggling by allowing law enforcement to stop vehicles when they have “reasonable suspicion” of a traffic violation, a lower legal standard than probable cause. The bill would have also made it a crime for illegal immigrants to apply or solicit work in a public place, and make it illegal to stop and block traffic to pick up people to transport them to a work site.
Meyer, with the immigrant rights group, said those provision raised Constitutional concerns about freedom of speech.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)