Proposed Bill Would Give Public Benefits To Those In The U.S. Unlawfully

State lawmakers are discussing the bill that would give health care, housing assistance to those regardless of immigration status.

Video Transcript

- People who are in the country unlawfully would have access to state and local public benefits under a bill being discussed at the state capitol. Political specialist Shaun Boyd joins us now from the capitol tonight. And Shaun, this is one of several big immigration bills this session.

SHAUN BOYD: Yeah, Karen. Those bills include a fund to help pay for the legal defense of those facing deportation, a special unemployment fund for those out of work, $4 million for free contraception, and access to state and local licenses, certificates, and registrations. But the most sweeping bill would cover public benefits, regardless of immigration status.

As detention centers on the Southern border overflow and migrants continue to arrive in droves, at the state legislature an effort is underway to not only protect those who come here from deportation, but to open up public benefits to them.

SONYA JACQUEZ LEWIS: We are creating these different levels of access. So this bill really is about access. It's about making the playing field even for everyone.

SHAUN BOYD: Senator Sonya Jacquez Lewis, sponsor of a bill that would remove lawful presence as a condition for public benefits, including health care, housing assistance, unemployment, welfare, disability, and retirement benefits, as well as licenses, contracts, and grants. Local governments would have the option of doing the same.

SONYA JACQUEZ LEWIS: It's really about making sure that folks that are applying for public benefits services are not having this extra requirement of proving lawful presence.

SHAUN BOYD: Jacquez Lewis says it's an unnecessary administrative burden. Senator Jerry Sonnenberg disagrees.

JERRY SONNENBERG: Given what's happening at the border, Colorado will be a magnet if they pass this.

SHAUN BOYD: Sonnenberg says the state has already borrowed $1 billion to pay for unemployment for those here legally.

JERRY SONNENBERG: So we're going to provide all of these different benefits, including health care-- including things that, quite honestly, many of our own people can't afford to do-- we're going to provide to people of illegal immigrant status.

SONYA JACQUEZ LEWIS: It's regardless of their lawful presence, their immigration status. It's who they are. And this allows everyone to be able to have those opportunities that we should all have as Coloradans.

SHAUN BOYD: The Senate State Affairs Committee did hear debate on the bill today but did not vote on it. Nonpartisan fiscal analysts estimate it could cost the state up to $23 million a year.

In addition to this bill and all those other immigration bills, there's also legislation to create the Colorado Office of New Americans to develop a strategy to help immigrants integrate in all ways. Live at the capitol, Shaun Boyd, covering Colorado first.