Speaking moments before the start of today's immigration summit at the State Capitol, Senator Kevin Lundberg, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, portrays the session as an attempt to tackle an important issue in a post-election environment that will give him and his fellow legislators a better shot at success. "I'm really not trying to play the partisan game on this at all," he says.
Lundberg notes that "as the name implies, the Republican Study Committee studies issues of significance to the legislature -- and the whole subject of illegal immigration impacts so much of what happens with the jobs and the economy. It's one component that affects all of that."
As for the timing of the assembly, which will feature Republican senators such as Ted Harvey, Dave Schultheis and Scott Renfroe and representatives from organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies during a daylong session that got underway at 9 a.m., Lundberg says, "We thought it best to wait until after the election. Before elections, everything gets tainted with people claiming, 'You're grandstanding this,' or 'You're trying to promote this for the election.' We wanted to sweep that off the table, because this is important policy for the State of Colorado."
The presumption on the part of many political observers is that legislators like Lundberg would like to enact a measure along the lines of Arizona's controversial SB-1070, portions of which remain in limbo due to a court ruling about states' ability to tinker with federal law. Lundberg denies such a bill is a specific goal of the meeting, but he concedes that conversations could lead participants in this direction.
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"We don't have a clear agenda in terms of legislation," he maintains. "But ultimately, that's our job down here -- to run bills, to seek to improve our laws, to meet the realities of the day. And the issue of illegal immigration and how it impacts our schools, prisons, hospitals, employment numbers and people's access to the economy is important.
"Arizona Senator Russell Pearce ran 1070 down there, and it became law -- and many of those components are in effect today," he goes on. "Now, Colorado's a different state, and we have a different set of circumstances both within our legislature and in the whole mix of things. But something like that could come out, and if the facts bear out that it's the best direction to go, I would have no problem doing that."
Still, Lundberg insists "there are no foregone conclusions here. We're just trying to focus on the core issue of how illegal immigration affects the people in the State of Colorado. That's why we've asked a variety of business interests and organizations and public officials to come and speak to us and, I trust, speak to the public at large, too. We hold events like this within the State Capitol because you do want public scrutiny on what you're talking about, and we know that people are very concerned. During the election, a lot of people were talking about the illegal immigration issue and the deleterious effect on our state."
Among folks tackling this subject most overtly was gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo -- but he tells Westword's Patricia Calhoun he was not invited to participate in the Republican Study Committee's conversation.
At this point, GOP loyalists and Dems seem far apart on immigration policy. Does Lundberg see any possibility of that changing?
"Inevitably, things end up partisan," he concedes. "I'm just trying to find policies that work, and I'd love to work with all of my colleagues on this issue and fix the problem. But if what you're asking me is, 'Will we end up with policies that don't have the teeth to have an effect?,' which is really what I've seen here in Colorado, then no, I'm not willing to play that game.
"If you go back over the past several years -- and part of today will be devoted to what we've worked on in the past -- there have probably been dozens of immigration bills, most of which have been killed in party-line votes, because Democrats have refused to support these measures."
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Of course, not every Democrat is opposed to get-tough policies.
"The Republican Study Committee actually held a hearing on this very issue back in, I think, 2006, and our main presenter was a Democrat, a very well-known Democrat: former Governor Dick Lamm. He said, 'I've tried going down the road of appeasement, and it doesn't work. We have to find systems that require people to work within the law, not the other way around.'"
The bottom line for Lundberg? "I'm not looking for political solutions. I'm looking for a real public-policy solution. And that's what the meeting today is all about."
More from our Immigration archive: "Immigration and Customs Enforcement's latest roundup: 85 "criminal aliens" busted by ICE."