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Ariz.-Style Immigration Bill Would Further Jam Dockets, Panel Concludes

By Ali McNally, LAW WEEK COLORADO

DENVER – Colorado legislation modeled after Arizona’s controversial SB-1070, which could be introduced as early as next spring, may create further backlogs for an immigration docket that already ranks among the highest in the nation, an immigration law panel said Sept. 7.

“Even right now the judges here in Denver have one of the heaviest dockets in the country,” said Lakewood-based solo immigration law practitioner Ginger McGuire, Colorado Chapter Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “There’s a lot of frustration at the process already.”

The number of pending cases in the U.S. Immigration Court in Denver has risen 62 percent in the past five years. Although Denver has just a fraction of pending cases in comparison to states like California, it also only has four judges to handle them. Two more will be added by the end of this fall to help alleviate the current docket of 6,400 cases.

The issue of possible “copycat” legislation in Colorado was discussed during “Immigration Reform: Arizona SB-1070 and Beyond,” organized by the American Constitution Society at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. The panel was moderated by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver.

The bill has caused outrage among Hispanic communities throughout Colorado and the nation because, they contend that it promotes racial profiling.
“This is the first statute that I am aware of that expressly in text authorizes racial profiling,” said Jack Chin, a public policy and criminal law professor from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

The statute says that law enforcement officers may not consider race, color or national origin “except as permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution,” Chin said.

“Both the U.S. and the Arizona Supreme Courts, in both cases have upheld unanimously that apparent Mexican ancestry is a legitimate factor for a law enforcement officer to take into account in evaluating whether there’s reasonable suspicion to stop somebody on the ground that they might be undocumented,” Chin said.

Allowing states to enforce their own immigration policy runs the risk of being inconsistent, contradictory and open to abuse, said Damien Arguello, president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association. He added that he’d be “skeptical” that copycat legislation in Colorado could avoid racial profiling.

“Given the basic intent of the law, I think it would be very hard to create a similar law without discrimination,” Arguello said.

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