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Colorado breaks down barriers to help undocumented migrants live and work

America is considered the land of opportunity, a vast and attractive land for people who want to hit the reset life button.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people arrive in the country to start from scratch, many of them without proper identification or papers.

Colorado is trying to be more welcoming to these undocumented residents.

In recent months, the western state has passed a slew of laws to support and protect undocumented migrants after the pandemic exposed large disparities and exacerbated inequalities in Colorado and elsewhere.

Governor Jared Polis signed legislation to expand access to housing, employment and state benefits for undocumented migrants. Supporters say the laws will make the state a more equitable place. Opponents argue that the measures will siphon money and services from other residents.

“We can’t just wait for the federal government to fix our flawed immigration system,” Polis said at a signing ceremony for a law eliminating the requirement for regulators to verify immigration status of a person before issuing or renewing a license, certificate or “Colorado needs the contributions of everyone in our state with all different talents and skills to have good jobs and work and use their abilities for us improve all. “

The 180,000 undocumented immigrants who live in Colorado make up about 3% of the state’s population. Nationally, more than 10.5 million people live in the United States without permission, according to the Pew Research Center.

Historically, they have been excluded from certain opportunities available to people with U.S. citizenship, including access to everything from driver’s licenses to public housing.

Among the new laws, there is one that removes the phrase “illegal alien” from state documents and replaces it with “unauthorized worker” and another that makes criminal extortion threatening to report the immigration status of a person to induce him to do or refrain from doing a lawful act.

The legislature also passed a measure to create the Office of New Americans, which will serve as a destination for political ideas and programs for refugees and immigrants if the bill is enacted.

The legislation was sponsored by the state’s representative for the first term, Iman Jodeh, the first Muslim Arab woman of color elected in the state’s history.

Arguably the most important measure to be adopted during the session, which ended on Tuesday, is a historic housing allowance adopted in March that allows undocumented residents to apply for and receive housing assistance, vouchers. and other grants. It comes into force in January.

Critics of the law say lawmakers are allowing an open door policy for undocumented residents to enter Colorado and take jobs and opportunities away from deserving residents.

“The law is a bad idea. It’s hard to justify, ”said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington, DC. “What Colorado is doing by providing these housing subsidies is to entrench illegal immigrants more deeply in our society. Their presence here is not permitted.

Proponents counter that everyone residing in the country should have a chance to succeed.

“I tried to think of a way to raise immigrants and refugees, especially knowing my own history as a first generation American, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and refugees,” said Jodeh, who has Campaigns on a platform of civil rights, affordable housing, education, employment and health care.

Supporters also point to pandemic victims like Anyela, an undocumented Colorado resident, who has struggled since the outbreak began.

Less than three years ago, Anyela, who asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of deportation, moved to Aurora, Colorado, from Colombia with five family members.

Anyela, 30, and her husband almost immediately accepted jobs at a local renovation company. Her husband worked as a construction worker in house building and she cleaned.

They saved money and put their two children in school.

The pandemic forced her to stop working and the family struggled to pay her rent.

The family – which included Anyela, her husband, their two children, a friend and her in-laws, who have since returned to Colombia – were ultimately evicted from their basement apartment.

Help was not on the way either. Anyela turned to Colorado Legal Services, but was turned down because of her citizenship status.

She was kicked out of a food bank for the same reason, Anyela said through a translator.

“The pandemic was really difficult for us because we felt discriminated against because of our immigration status,” Anyela said of her housing crisis. “Put yourself in our shoes. We didn’t have a single piece of paper saying we were from here and most of these departments ask for it to get the services. Neither of my children have a social security number and it is more difficult for us. How are we supposed to be able to survive? “

Hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal funding have already been set aside for residents negatively affected by the pandemic.

Undocumented residents, however, need proof of US citizenship to qualify for federal housing programs.

Colorado law helps people who couldn’t apply for housing assistance programs because they couldn’t prove their legal presence, said Democratic State Senator Julie Gonzales, who sponsored the project. law.

“We make it easy for people who have become part of our community and who give often to ask for help,” Gonzales said. “We have to meet the needs of the Coloradans, and that is what we are doing by passing this bill.”

Not everyone thinks that Anyela and her family should have access to these services.

“It’s unfair and it also creates a magnet. If you just give housing allowances to anyone who shows up, you’re probably going to get a lot of people, ”said Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “If we had unlimited resources, that wouldn’t be a problem. “

Mehlman said the law would take resources away from other vulnerable groups, including homeless military veterans.

“What I don’t understand is how come the lawmakers who have sworn to uphold the law and protect the interests of voters, why are they so keen to reward illegal aliens?” said Dave Gorak, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration. “When is all this going to end?” How do you plan to control illegal immigration? “

State officials said about 140,000 undocumented residents live in a house or apartment with their family, making anyone inside the residence ineligible for benefits or housing assistance.

“We have all these families trying to do everything right,” Gonzales said, pointing to the naturalization process, which can take years. “They got married. They tried to apply for legal status and did well while trying to keep their families afloat.”

Under the new law, applicants for federal, state or local public benefits or housing assistance will not have to verify their immigration status to receive benefits.

Democratic State Representative Dominique Jackson was also a sponsor of the Housing Allowance Bill. She said that many immigrants, including productive entrepreneurs and students, contribute to the local economy.

“The point is, everyone deserves housing. I believe housing is a basic human right,” Jackson said.

Victor Galvan is Political Field Director for United for a New Economy, a nonprofit that works for housing justice, fair taxes and workers’ rights for people of color and disenfranchised people. . He helps Anyela and others to get up.

“We saw during Covid-19 that essential workers were undocumented and heavily affected, and some of them found themselves in situations where they were no longer going to have housing,” said Galvan. “I think that has pushed lawmakers to move forward.”

Galvan said many families are in crisis due to loss of income, jobs or depleted savings.

“It helps them find the right support,” he said. “Now they can claim the benefits they legitimately earned. “

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