A diverse and bipartisan group of influential Coloradans has come together to support an immigration-reform compact intended to spark national action on divisive issues such as granting legal status to needed foreign workers and worthy undocumented immigrants.
The Colorado Compact, which is being unveiled Sunday, has been crafted over the past year during more than 200 meetings around the state.
The compact's strength lies in the fact that its more than 85 signers include individuals and organizations from both ends of the political spectrum. Signers span faith organizations, law enforcement agencies, the business community, agricultural interests, immigrant-rights advocates and institutions of higher education.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet spearheaded the compact effort with help from former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, a prominent Republican in Colorado.
Compact signers say, even though the document is not legally binding, it sends a message that Colorado, a state with an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants, wants meaningful immigration reform.
"I think this compact will have a very meaningful impact on the discussion in Washington, D.C.," Bennet said. "It has people from all walks of life in Colorado saying, 'We need to fix this broken system.' "
The compact does not use the word "citizenship" for undocumented immigrants, but it advocates a "path forward" for upstanding immigrants. It calls for an improved worker-visa system; a reasonable law enforcement strategy that focuses on public safety; and a priority on keeping immigrant families together.
Colorado's six-point compact follows the creation of similar guiding-principle documents in Utah, Indiana and Idaho. Colorado's compact goes further with specific suggestions for change, such as a more flexible visa system that will help the economy and a path to legal status for some in the country without legal status but who pay taxes and who are of good character.
"Our country has enough problems without leaving a lot of people in limbo," Brown said.
Bennet said he has been talking to other senators about the compact and, as soon as "fiscal cliff" debates are over, that he will address the Senate to outline how a bipartisan group came together on the issue in Colorado.
"I think it's possible something will happen on this in the early part of the session," he said.
Conservative Republican Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck surprised some Democrats last week when he praised Bennet for his leadership in crafting the compact and added his own name to the document.
"I have agreed to join with leaders across the state to sign the Colorado Compact because I believe the time has come for the federal government to take serious action on the issue of immigration," Buck said in a written statement.
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce board of directors unanimously supported the compact with an added list of resolutions that stress the importance of immigration reform to the economy.
"We took another step to say, 'Here are some sensible paths to move forward on this,' " chamber president Kelly Brough said.
The chamber's additions included recommendations that more visas be made available for skilled foreign workers, that young undocumented immigrants be given a chance for citizenship if they complete higher education or military service, and that visas for seasonal workers be periodically adjusted based on the unemployment rate.
Mario Carrera, chief revenue officer for Entravision Communications, praised the compact signers for rising beyond the toxic arguments that have stymied immigration reform.
"These people are being bold and courageous," he said. "This is a group of people that is not going to be silent anymore."
Compact signers include Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila; the Colorado Cattlemen's Association; the Colorado Chapter of the Immigration Lawyers Association; University of Colorado president Bruce Benson; the Aspen Skiing Co.; Club 20; the Colorado Hospital Association; the state associations for sheriffs and police chiefs; and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos.
Announcement of the compact is being made Sunday at the University of Denver. Dozens of signers from around the state are expected to attend. Gov. John Hickenlooper will join Bennet and Brown to unveil the compact.
The public has the opportunity to sign the compact or to comment on it by going online at coloradocompact.com.