Back in 2008, Francis Hernandez was drunk when he crashed his SUV into the broadside of a truck, killing the two women inside. The truck then exploded through the window of an Aurora Baskin-Robbins ice cream store, killing a 3-year-old boy.
That was horrifying enough to attract reporters. But it was the fact that Hernandez, 23, was an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record that made the story national. Fingers wagged eagerly. If Hernandez had simply been deported, wouldn't this have been avoided?
Colorado Senate President John Morse says that was all he knew of the story at first. But later, through his service on a special state task force for immigration, he found out more. Hernandez, he says, had come to the U.S. as a young child and done well in school. But after he graduated, there were no more opportunities for him. His life spiraled, and he turned to alcohol.
For Morse, that raised another "What if?" If Hernandez had more options, would things have turned out differently?
"What an amazing waste of humanity," Morse reflects. "To have three people die and have another person have to spend long periods of time in prison for three counts of vehicular homicide all because, 'These people are here illegally!'
"I get it. But I don't think that's how we have to react to it."
After this legislative session, Colorado will be reacting differently; immigration reform was a big winner in 2013. The ASSET bill, SB 033, will allow undocumented immigrants the chance to attend a state college with in-state tuition. House Bill 1258 overturns a 2006 law requiring police to notify federal authorities of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 251 could make it possible for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, though the IDs would not be considered valid for any purpose not driving-related. (Gov. John Hickenlooper has not yet signed that bill.)
In addition to changes to state law, Colorado also may influence federal ones. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is a member of the "Gang of Eight" that hashed out a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which could provide a path to citizenship for the country's 11.1 million undocumented immigrants. Bennet expects the Senate to vote on the bill in June, and the House to take it up in July.
"If we are successful in passing this bill and fixing our broken immigration system, it will have hugely positive effects for Colorado because our state, in many ways, is ground zero when it comes to immigration," Bennet writes in an e-mail to the Independent. "We have a growing Latino population; tourism and agricultural industries that are backbones of our state's economy and rely on a stable, continuous workforce; and a thriving high-tech community that needs a more efficient visa process to access skilled workers."
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