If we expect to climb out of the economic crisis that was foisted upon us by the pandemic, we will need every resident of Colorado to pitch in. But what happens when some are prohibited from doing so? That would mean we are missing out on opportunities to maximize Colorado’s recovery. Right now, Colorado is limiting all of us by limiting the full economic participation of residents who cannot prove lawful presence.
Fifteen years ago, Colorado passed laws that failed to recognize just how important immigrants were to our economy, our civil society, and our social conscience. Now, we have the opportunity to change 15 years of bad policy. In 2007, the year after these draconian laws were implemented, news outlets across the state reported a $2 million increase in expenses due to the increase in workload — the cost of verifying every single applicant’s lawful presence. At the same time, they reported zero savings. Clearly, these laws have only added cost and administrative burden to our state.
According to the New American Economy, immigrants who cannot prove lawful presence contribute $140.9 million in state and local taxes, not to mention the $231.7 million in federal taxes that support our infrastructure, education, social services, and other community benefits — all while being prohibited from applying for public benefits when they need them.
SB21-199 eliminates these laws and affirmatively states that people who qualify for these benefits may apply for state and local public benefits without proof of lawful presence. By denying this population access to benefits when they are needed, we have been sending the message that we want their labor, and we want their taxes, but we do not want to help them in return. We are better than this.
Every single community and industry is supported by the labor and buying power of Colorado’s residents who cannot prove lawful presence. Passing SB21-199 will take us one step closer to living up to Colorado’s values of hard work, integrity, patience, discipline, and an unyielding spirit to achieve one’s dreams, and ensuring that all of our hard-working residents are considered part of our society.
Today we know that immigrants are indispensable. We have seen proof that residents who cannot prove lawful presence rise to the occasion even in dire and difficult situations. For example, during the pandemic, our immigrant communities faced higher rates of COVID-19 in part because they kept working essential jobs to make sure you and I could eat, our parents could receive care in nursing homes, and childcare was available to allow doctors and nurses and grocery store workers to keep working. The inner workings of our society, those systems and tasks that so often go unnoticed, kept functioning thanks in large part to immigrant workers. It is long past time that Colorado recognizes the immigrant population as essential, valuable, and reliable.
Passing SB21-199 will support Colorado’s economic recovery by allowing qualified, trained professionals to start businesses, apply for contracts, grants, and loans, and fill in the growing labor gap in Colorado’s industries.
After the counterproductive costs of 2006 and the sudden economic crisis of 2020, it’s time to let our policies reflect the impact of immigrants on our economy and society — not the backward bigotry that scared us into creating these reversible restrictions in the first place.
Lorena Garcia is the executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, a statewide organization that strives to create and promote equity in education. She also convenes the Removing Barriers Coalition made up of over 200 organizations, agencies, businesses, and community leaders across the state, backing SB21-199.