Colorado is one signature away from providing housing benefits to residents regardless of immigration status — a first-of-its-kind policy in the U.S., according to state officials.
The Senate followed in the House’s footsteps on Tuesday, giving final passage to a bill that would affect the roughly 180,000 people estimated to be living in Colorado without authorization.
Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs, which administers housing assistance programs and requested that lawmakers bring this bill, believes the state will be the first in the nation to allow people “to apply for, and receive, state-funded public housing assistance regardless of immigration status,” spokesman Brett McPherson said.
“We have been dreaming of a moment like this for well over a decade,” said Victor Galvan, political field director for the Colorado-based organization United for a New Economy. “This means that people will be able to plan for emergencies, work with direct service providers at the county, state and city level to be able to plan for moments in which they lose a job and have dug so far into their savings that they can’t afford rent, moments when catastrophe hits and they have nowhere else to go but to the state or the city or county for support.
“Before, that wasn’t possible. Before, it meant expending every other solution.”
This segment of the population has been almost entirely barred from public benefits during the pandemic, such as stimulus checks and business grants, though lawmakers set aside $5 million late last year for immigrant families who are in the country without documentation.
Under the bill, Coloradans living in the U.S. without authorization will benefit not only from emergency pandemic housing assistance but all forms of state housing assistance moving forward.
The lead Senate bill sponsor, Denver Democrat Julie Gonzales, said she’s been assured that Gov. Jared Polis will sign the bill into law. Tuesday’s vote, which came after the House passed it on party lines on March 3, was 20-14. All Senate Democrats who were present and one Republican, Kevin Priola of Henderson, in favor.
The lead House sponsor, Rep. Dominique Jackson, said the bill “is needed because housing is a human right and everybody deserves a safe and affordable place to live.”
“This is an opportunity to make sure that our neighbors — all of our neighbors — have the same opportunities to stay housed, to stay safe and to keep their families together,” said the Aurora Democrat, who has experienced homelessness.
One GOP senator who opposed the bill, John Cooke of Weld County, said he believes the state should have kept the immigration status requirement, and that government funding should not benefit anyone living in this country without legal permission.
“They need to get in line and come in to this country legally, like millions of other people have,” he said. “Taxpayer money shouldn’t be funding these people staying here.”
He and most other Senate Republicans opposed another immigration-related bill that is also headed to Polis as of Tuesday. That measure strips the term “illegal alien” from the final place it is found in state statute regarding public contracts, replacing it with “worker without authorization.” Though it does not change policy, it is seen by its backers as an important symbolic change.
“We’re in a moment right now where we are living with very real consequences of dehumanizing language, where we’ve seen rise in hate crimes, real division and scapegoating of people who are perceived to be ‘other,’ less than human,” said Gonzales, who added that her view was reinforced after attending a recent Denver rally against hate and violence directed at the Asian American community.
The proposed language change passed the House in early March. All Senate Democrats who were present Tuesday plus three Republicans voted for it. GOP Sen. Don Coram of Montrose said he voted yes because he doesn’t much care either way.
“What’s in a name? Are they here illegally? Probably so,” he said. “But what’s the difference in changing the name?”
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