Jul 12, 2022 - News

Legal U.S. residency no longer required for Colorado benefits

Illustration of a pair of scissors about to cut a velvet rope barrier.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With little notice, Colorado took a huge step this month toward becoming a refuge for undocumented immigrants.

Driving the news: Legal U.S. residency is no longer required to obtain state and local government benefits, professional licenses or business permits under a law that took effect July 1.

  • The 2021 law signed by Gov. Jared Polis makes available state benefits, including dental care, mental health counseling and family services. It also expands eligibility for property tax, rent and utility subsidies.
  • The estimated cost for expanding eligibility to immigrants is $12 million a year, according to a legislative analysis.

What to watch: The city of Denver announced that it would no longer verify legal residency when issuing business licenses and is now accepting more forms of identification.

Yes, but: The Polis administration and local leaders appear reluctant to follow the city's lead, Axios Denver has learned.

  • The governor's spokesman, Conor Cahill, told us the law didn't require the benefits to be available by July 1. He didn't say when — or even if — the administration would expand eligibility.
  • Likewise, the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties association could not identify any other local governments opening benefit programs.

The big picture: The new law is part of a broader, years-long effort by Democrats in Colorado to remove restrictions on state resources for immigrants without permanent legal status, most notably rolling back a bipartisan 2006 law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

  • In 2019, the state expanded a program to provide driver's licenses to immigrants without legal permission.

Between the lines: The extension of state and local benefits to immigrants is expected to cause widespread confusion, because well-known federal programs like Medicaid and food assistance remain off-limits.

  • The governor said when he signed the law that more legislative changes and a robust education campaign are needed to explain the "limited applicability."

What they're saying: Still, immigrant advocates are celebrating the milestone.

  • "What we know as we recover from the pandemic — and the ensuing economic rollercoaster that we're all currently riding — is that we need everyone involved in order to help us rebound in a way that is equitable and fair," state Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, told us.

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