Arizona immigration law: Critic tells CO reps not to go from bad policy to unconstitutional kind

At this writing, a delegation of Colorado lawmakers, including Representative Kent Lambert, is in Arizona to discuss how best to launch a version of the state's controversial immigration law here.

To Julie Gonzales, political coordinator for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, this quest is understandable but wrongheaded in the extreme.

"We're disappointed to see that they're going, and that they're trying to base more bad policy after unconstitutional policy," Gonzales says. "Because what we really need is federal-level reform. We all understand that the system's broken, and there's a deep sense of frustration around that brokenness. But passing more short-sighted state laws doesn't fix anything. It just compounds the problem."

Indeed, Gonzales would like to see "Republicans like Jon Kyl and John McCain get back on board with comprehensive federal immigration reform, because that's ultimately what we need to do to solve the problem."

There's little likelihood of that happening. In Arizona, the death of rancher Rob Krentz fueled a conservative backlash against reformers like McCain, who's moved dramatically to the right in an attempt to stave off a primary challenge by J.D. Hayworth. The vote takes place on August 24.

Whatever McCain's political fate, Gonzales acknowledges that "people are frustrated" about immigration. "They've wanted action on this issue for years. And back in 2008, both candidate McCain and candidate Obama talked about fixing the broken immigration system. I still distinctly remember Spanish-language radio ads from candidate McCain talking about comprehensive immigration reform, and candidate Obama talked about taking on immigration reform in the first year after his election."

Recently, President Obama signed a bill containing millions for increased security along the Mexico-U.S. border. But in Gonzales's view, "that won't solve the root cause of what's going on. People are like, 'If that's all we can get, let's take it. Because we need to do something.' But ultimately, it's just putting a Band-Aid on the issue -- which is, at its core, a federal issue."

At this point, many controversial provisions of the Arizona law are on hold thanks to the action of a federal judge, who issued an injunction in response to a U.S. government lawsuit. Gonzales believes these portions of the measure will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional -- so she's puzzled why Colorado legislators would apparently be interested in emulating them.

"We have so many huge issues facing the state: the economy, the budget, getting people back to work, solving the foreclosure crisis here," she says. "We have more important things to talk about than how to pass an unconstitutional law.

"We need to have a deeper conversation about a complex policy -- and it needs to happen in Congress, not at Colfax and Broadway."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts