Univ. panel: Legalization of immigrants beneficial

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2009 2:55 PM

Millions of undocumented people in the U.S. should be given a path to legal status after the country finds a way to stop illegal immigration, business and government leaders said in a report Wednesday.

The University of Denver report argues that legalizing as many of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants as possible could strengthen the economy and national security. But it should come with conditions, such as requiring new immigrants to learn English, pass criminal and medical background checks, and pay any taxes that they owe, the document states.

The report is the product of a year of discussions by a 20-member nonpartisan panel and presentations from Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former Gov. Bill Owens and other political leaders. Its policy recommendations are being sent to the Legislature and members of Congress.

The university has issued similar reports on water, the economy and the state constitution.

"In my opinion it is absolutely critical that we bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows," said Polly Baca, a panel member and former Colorado state senator. "That to me is the most important part of the report."

The panel said the U.S. should first stem the flow of immigration with adequately funded border enforcement and tougher workplace enforcement. To that end, it called for the permanent implementation of E-Verify _ an electronic system used to check a worker's immigration status.

Employers are not required to use the system, which has not been immune from mistakes. In some cases, E-Verify has not caught illegal immigrants who used forged documents to get jobs.

The panel said that the system could work better if the federal government develops worker-identification cards for all residents to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens.

The report recommends making the process of granting visas more flexible to accommodate economic demands on a state-by-state basis. It would create a visa category for people "possessing highly desirable qualifications," including advanced degrees and technical and physical skills.

James Griesemer, chairman of the panel, said the group agreed that most illegal immigrants were making a positive contribution to the U.S.

"This is a fact, and so the question is how do we deal with this (illegal immigration) in a way that's positive for American society," he said.