A mass mailing from an out-of-town special-interest group has again created controversy in the 59th District state House race, this time over immigration issues.
Earlier television advertising and mass mailings from the Committee for the American Dream, the political action committee of the state's Homebuilders Association, attacked Democrat Joe Colgan and earned the disavowal of both Republican Ellen Roberts and the Southwest Colorado branch of the Homebuilders. While advertising from this PAC continues, another out-of-town organization, Coloradans for Change, has put out a direct-mail flier describing what it calls "2 Candidates for House District 59; 2 Very Different Viewpoints on Illegal Immigration."
Interviewed Monday, Roberts and Colgan described positions on immigration that were in fact quite similar.
The flier states that Colgan supported a "Sanctuary City" policy for Durango as the city's mayor and that he would "work against immigration reform and enforcement of current immigration laws." The City Council voted unanimously in July 2004 that city resources should not be used to identify or turn over undocumented immigrants to federal officials unless the immigrants commit crimes.
The 2004 resolution contained a disclaimer stating that it did not endorse any policy conflicting with state or federal law. Then-Mayor Colgan said at the time the vote was "an affirmation of the policy we have now" and said the city was not trying to get in the way of enforcement of immigration law.
Colgan said Monday that he voted against an early form of the resolution because it did not explicitly allow police to conform to a state law requiring them to notify immigration officials when they question an undocumented immigrant.
Roberts said Monday the sanctuary city designation "has not had any meaningful impact." However, while the flier claimed she would support policies to "empower law enforcement to arrest, fine and deport illegal aliens," Roberts said she thought the primary pursuit of undocumented immigrants should be left to federal officials.
Roberts would not commit, as the flier claimed she did, to "eliminate free state benefits and services to illegal aliens." In her statement, Roberts said obtaining an "honest and fair count" of the costs and benefits of immigration would be a "huge first step to reaching solutions." Roberts advocates a guest-worker program operating at the federal level but does not support amnesty proposals "because the costs and benefits need to be analyzed first."
Colgan also endorses a guest-worker program that will allow workers to "pay for the services (they) receive" through taxes.
Both said Monday they endorsed the third policy the flier attributed to Roberts, to "provide businesses with the necessary tools to screen out illegal workers and fraudulent documents."
In a September 1999 piece for The Durango Herald, Roberts asked the rhetorical question, "Can we not figure out a better solution than building gargantuan fences along the border, equipping the Immigration and Naturalization Service with military technology, equipment and strategies and playing a silly game of returning the same workers back to Mexico when we desperately need their labor?" Roberts said Monday she still believes the rotating door for immigrants is "silly." She said she would rather national policy focused more on developing a "working system to do it legally" rather than on further militarizing the border.
Colgan also described a guest-worker system as a better alternative than militarization.