Dick Lamm pushes for controversial E-Verify system in Colorado Compact immigration group

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Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm is one of more than a hundred officials, public leaders and organizations to sign on to the so-called Colorado Compact on immigration -- an effort Senator Michael Bennet is spearheading. But Lamm, who has in the past made some attention-getting statements on immigration, says he has been pushing one policy that no one on the left or the right seems interested in: E-Verify.

E-Verify is a controversial program known for its use in Arizona, where the state requires employers to verify whether their workers are in the country legally or not.

Some argue that these kinds of programs can take an unfair "guilty until proven innocent" approach to employment and can negatively impact legal citizens looking for work even as they burden businesses with cost.

Republicans and Democrats don't like it, says Lamm, a previous Colorado governor -- but he thinks the concept is key to the Colorado Compact's success.

"In my opinion, this whole thing will be a failure...if they don't get E-Verify in it," Lamm says. "It's incredibly important to success of this."

E-Verify is a Department of Homeland Security program that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees -- and is free and generally voluntary in states like Colorado that don't mandate it.

Lamm says a serious E-Verify component is essential for Colorado to help limit the number of undocumented people living and working here.

He recalls a story from his time as governor in 1976, when around forty Hispanic Americans came into his office because they had just been fired from a local packing plant. That business had "turned around and hired a bunch of illegal aliens," he says.

The employer had fired the legal workers in favor of illegal workers for whom he didn't have to provide health care, Lamm recalls.

"It's a hell of a deal for the employer," he says, adding, "Illegal immigration is to some people a great humanitarian cause...but what's really keeping it going is cheap labor."

He feels mandatory E-Verify is not popular on either side of the aisle because the right thinks it is not good for big business and the left see it as an unjust policy toward immigrants.

He says he has pushed the idea with Bennet's staff, but adds, "They are getting incredible heat from both the left and the right."

Lamm adds, "I don't know who's speaking up for it. I was not hopeful in my conversation with [Bennet's staff]."

Of the Colorado Compact, which has already earned at least one harsh critic, Lamm adds, "It's an exercise in coalition building. But you've got such diverse viewpoints."

Asked about Lamm's E-Verify comments, Kristin Lynch, a spokeswoman for Senator Bennet, writes in a statement:

As you know, the Compact is an effort to bring about a more rational conversation on immigration that can lead to real reform. While the Compact doesn't endorse specific policy provisions, such as E-Verify, it does outline several principles that should be reflected in legislation, including an enforcement system that more effectively works with employers to determine who is authorized to work and who is not.

More from our Immigration archive: "Homeless women in Denver: Struggles of an undocumented immigrant seeking shelter"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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