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Why Colorado is throwing its doors open to undocumented immigrants

Gov. Jared Polis has signed into law measures aimed at expanding access to housing, jobs and state benefits to undocumented immigrants. Supporters say the laws will make the state a more equitable place. Opponents argue the measures will siphon money and services from other residents.

“We can’t just sit around waiting for the federal government to fix our broken immigration system,” Polis said at a signing ceremony for a law eliminating the requirement that regulatory agencies verify a person’s immigration status before issuing or renewing a license, certificate or registration. “Colorado needs the contributions from everybody in our state with all different talents and skills to have good jobs and work and employ their abilities to make us all better off.”

The 180,000 undocumented immigrants who live in Colorado make up about 3 percent of the state’s population. Nationwide, more than 10.5 million people live in the U.S. unauthorized, according to the Pew Research Center.

Historically, they have been locked out of certain opportunities afforded to people with U.S. citizenship, including access to everything from driver’s licenses to public housing.

Among the new laws is one that removes the phrase “illegal alien” from state documents and replaces it with “worker without authorization” and another that makes it criminal extortion to threaten to report a person’s immigration status to get them to perform or refrain from performing a lawful act.

The legislature also passed a measure to create the Office of New Americans, which will serve as a destination for policy ideas and refugee and immigrant programs if the bill is signed into law.

The legislation was sponsored by first-term state Rep. Iman Jodeh, the first Arab Muslim woman of color elected in the state’s history.

Arguably the most significant measure to pass in the session, which ended Tuesday, is a landmark housing benefitpassed in March that allows undocumented residents to apply for and receive housing assistance, vouchers and other subsidies. It goes into effect in January.

Critics of the law say lawmakers are enabling an open-door policy for undocumented residents to enter Colorado and take jobs and opportunities away from deserving locals.

“The law is a bad idea. It’s hard to justify,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. “What Colorado is doing by providing these housing subsidies is embedding illegal immigrants more deeply into our society. Their presence here is not authorized.”

Proponents counter that everyone residing in the country should have a chance to succeed.

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