Colo. OKs Toughest U.S. Immigration Bills

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By STEVEN K. PAULSON and JON SARCHE
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; 10:00 AM

DENVER -- Colorado lawmakers ended a five-day special session on illegal immigration with a resounding approval of several bills that Democrats call the toughest in the nation and Republicans say don't go far enough.

The legislation sent late Monday to Republican Gov. Bill Owens would force a million people receiving state or federal aid in Colorado to verify their citizenship.

It would deny most non-emergency state benefits to illegal immigrants 18 years old and older _ forcing people to prove legal residency when applying for benefits or renewing their eligibility. The state Senate passed it 22-13 and the House voted 48-15 in favor. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

"At the end of the day, everybody who serves in this building as senators or representatives knows we're making Colorado history," said the bill's sponsor, Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald. "We want to be able to look in the mirror and say we did legislation that is tough, enforceable and humane."

Republicans said the legislation still left glaring loopholes, including allowing benefits for minors and denying voters the chance to have a direct say on the issue.

The bill would apply to Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, energy assistance programs and aging and adult services. Owens has said an estimated 50,000 illegal immigrants could be thrown out of those programs.

"It simply puts teeth into existing federal regulations," Owens said.

Sen. Dan Grossman, one of four Democrats to vote against the measure, said: "I don't think the poor people of the state of Colorado or businesses of the state of Colorado should have to pay because we want to play politics with immigration."

Congress has been debating immigration reform for months, sparking demonstrations this spring involving millions of illegal immigrants and their supporters in several cities. With no major federal changes yet, however, some local governments have been taking matters into their own hands.

Last month, the City Council of Hazleton, Pa., tentatively approved a measure that would revoke the business licenses of companies that employ illegal immigrants; impose $1,000 fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants; and make English the city's official language.

"Illegal immigrants are destroying the city," Hazleton's Republican Mayor Lou Barletta said then. "I don't want them here, period."

Two Florida communities, Palm Bay and Avon Park, are considering similar immigration measures.

Idaho's Canyon County took a different tack _ it filed a racketeering lawsuit against agricultural companies accused of hiring illegal immigrants. A federal judge threw the case out, but county commissioners voted to appeal.


© 2006 The Associated Press

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