U.S. Rep. Jared Polis' Immigration Town Hall: 'They Should Start Fixing The System Before They Start Fixing The People In The System'

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis told an estimated 200 people at a town hall meeting Wednesday that he's been pushing for comprehensive immigration reform for four years -- and it may now be within reach.

A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators is expected soon to unveil a bill outlining reforms.

"I come before you more optimistic than usual on this issue," Polis told the crowd at the Boulder Public Library. "It is (an issue) I have cried tears over, but I am very hopeful that we will be able to move ahead in a bipartisan way."

At the town hall, Polis discussed possible reforms, why he supports them and fielded questions from constituents.

"As you know, we are a nation of immigrants and we are also a nation of laws, and currently, with this very dysfunctional system, those two are out of whack," said Polis, noting many immigrants violate the law as do many businesses that employ them. "And there are people that are being torn away from their families in stark contrast to our values as Americans."

Polis laid out three principles of reform: keeping families together; positive financial impact; and enforcement going forward.

He said detaining and deporting people who are in the country illegally after they have been contacted for non-serious reasons like traffic stops costs taxpayers -- $150 per night for detainment and $10,000 for deportation, in his estimation -- when they may have been paying taxes and working beforehand.

He said creation of a visa category for entrepreneurs and increasing the number of year-round guest worker visas for those people seeking unskilled labor positions could stimulate the U.S. economy.

He said the estimated 11 million people already in the country illegally would be offered a path to green cards and citizenship through the reform, but that would be years down the line after they had reapplied for guest worker visas.

Children of immigrants, brought here by their parents illegally, now

protected from deportation through a federal deferred action plan, should be sent to the front of the line for citizenship, he said.

"No version of reform conveys citizenship on anyone. It is about creating lines," Polis said.

A majority of the people in attendance seemed to favor Polis' positions, but there were many who clearly opposed the reforms he outlined, including Robert Cluster, of Boulder.

Cluster brought with him a handout citing statistics from the Federation for American Immigration Reform that said undocumented immigrants in Colorado cost taxpayers $1.45 billion each year, while their contribution is $61.8 million. He said that in a time of high unemployment, continued high immigration rates would hurt American workers.

"Do you feel any obligation to American workers -- people who were born here or came to this country legally, who played by the rules -- to explain to them why you are selling them out with this legislation?" he asked.

Some attendees shared horror stories from their experiences with the immigration system.

Veronica Pedro, originally from South Africa, said she and her husband had been in the U.S. working since 1997. She said her husband was a contractor for the Department of Defense, and despite support letters from government officials, he was deported last year. She received her green card last summer after applying in 2004, and records show her husband's application remains open despite his deportation.

Polis said her story was sad but typical of the system.

"I think they should start fixing the system before they start fixing the people in the system," Pedro said.

Volunteer members of Organizing for Action, a nonprofit group dedicated to advocacy on behalf of President Barack Obama's legislative agenda, organized Wednesday's event.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or ___

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