Colorado Senator Announces Immigration Agreement

PHOTO: Pro-immigrant demonstrators hold signs at an immigration reform rally in Denver, Colorado in March 2010.one1world/Flickr
Pro-immigrant demonstrators hold signs at an immigration reform rally in Denver, Colorado in March 2010.

A dairy farmer, a bishop and a Latino rights advocate all signed a compact. It sounds like the start to a bad joke, but it's actually an attempt in one of the nation's most compelling swing states to recognize the importance of immigration reform.

Following a year and a half of about 200 meetings and planning sessions, Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and former Senator Hank Brown (R-Colorado) unveiled what they are calling the Colorado Compact on Sunday at the University of Denver.

Nearly 100 diverse signatories, from Latino outreach groups to state agriculture groups, signed the compact, which is "an effort to convene and promote a reasonable conversation on immigration in Colorado that could lead to real and lasting federal reform."

Several states, including Utah, have similar compacts in place.

While the document doesn't offer specific policy recommendations, it outlines several areas that Senator Bennet and the other signers agree need consideration. The compact makes clear that its signers think immigration should be addressed at the federal level, that immigrants contribute to the economy, and that national security is important. It also states that immigrant families should be kept together, and that immigration policies "must provide a sensible path forward for immigrants who are here without legal status, are of good character, pay taxes, and are committed to becoming fully participating members of our society and culture."

Senator Bennet said during an interview with ABC/Univision News that the compact arose following conversations he had with people across the state about the failings of the current immigration system.

For example, farmers rely heavily on immigrant laborers, the thriving Colorado aerospace industry wants to be able to bring in highly skilled workers from foreign countries, and religious leaders are concerned with the human rights aspect of the immigration debate. All have gripes with the present system.

"I kept hearing that the current immigration system wasn't working for anybody, often for different reasons," Bennet said. "It occurred to me…people didn't know others were having challenges with it."

He called it a "happy coincidence that the conclusion of the compact drafting is coinciding with the beginning of immigration conversations in Washington."

While acknowledging that immigration reform should be a priority for lawmakers is one thing, actually drafting a reform bill and drumming up the support needed to turn it into a law is a very different beast.

But this compact has support from public officials on both sides of the aisle, including the Republican district attorney for Weld County, conservative Ken Buck.

Bennet thinks there are "a number of other Republicans interested in seeing if there's a way to move forward" on immigration, but he declined to speculate on which Republicans might be most open to working with Democrats.

"We've begun to have a bipartisan discussion in Washington about writing a bill, and I hope that's what we're going to do," he said.

Bennet, who says he "continue[s] to support a path to citizenship," thinks reform will work best when as many immigration issues as possible are addressed all at once.

Olivia Mendoza, the executive director of the Colorado Latino Forum, thinks the compact is definately a step in the right direction.

"What I liked about the compact is it talks about immigration policy from a holistic perspective," Mendoza said, adding that the immigration issue is often talked about in the context of social justice or economic development, while the compact takes a broader view.

Hispanic voters played a significant role in the 2012 presidential election, lending critical votes to President Barack Obama in swing states such as Colorado. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latino voters made up about 14 percent of the electorate in Colorado, and voted for Obama by a margin of 75 percent to 23 percent in the state. While they, like voters overall, cited the economy and jobs as their number one concern, Latinos also named immigration as a critical issue. And following Latino voters' record turnout - they made up 10 percent of the national electorate for the first time ever - lawmakers in Washington are beginning to turn their attention to the need for immigration reform.