Living in Colorado over the last year has been nothing short of a complete political culture shock for me. Having spent the majority of my life in ultra-conservative Utah—coupled with a three-year detour in like-minded Wyoming—seeing politicians from Colorado like Mike Bennet vote for a positive climate change referendum is brain-meltingly incomprehensible. From legalized cannabis to Democrat Governor Polis signing the Reproductive Health Equity Act (saving women's reproductive rights by allowing access to safe, legal abortions), for anyone with a strong political opinion, Colorado could either be seen as a utopia, or a total "Communist nightmare."


Due to the intensity of these perceptions concerning the Centennial state, I wanted to examine one of the most divisive issues in America today—illegal immigration—and see which perception is more accurate. More specifically, are illegal migrants truly diversifying Colorado? Or are the fearmongers correct and these migrants are all out to "take our jobs."


Because of the sheer volume of national headline coverage Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis received by trafficking illegal immigrants across state lines under false pretenses, illegal immigration has taken America by storm in 2022. Ever since that ghastly display of human lives being used as political chess pieces, I've gone down a couple of rabbit holes. One was delving into the raw data of how illegal immigration is impacting us locally. The other was in how the local conservative political leaders have ignored this information and left quotes warning of anyone illegal being nothing but a drain on resources.


Earlier in 2022, Colorado Republican Joe O'Dea said, "We should do in the first month or two what politicians like Michael Bennet talk about and never do: reform spending, secure the border with more border agents and a wall, fix the immigration system …" And in the 8th Congressional District, Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer continues to endorse ex-President Trump's plan to build a wall.


But the quote with the most relevance (along with being the most repeated by the GOP) towards the subject of today's piece comes from Colorado's 7th congressional district candidate Erik Aandland. Where, his official website states, "the solution [to immigration] is not to rob resources from the American people to attempt to help the entire world." This has also been a quote repeated ad nauseum by GOP talking heads. In fact, I would say it resides in the mythos of GOP crapulence along with "I have a black friend, therefore anything I say or condone can’t be racist."


These attitudes led me down the other rabbit hole; do their statements jive with the numbers?


First off, when dealing with the raw numbers, you’ll find that Colorado is home to a large percentage of the illegal immigrant population. In fact, Denver has been in the top 18 cities with the highest population of illegal immigrants since 2005. Because of this, both the state and federal websites containing statistics on illegal immigration are not only easily available, but they also show the same thing: illegal migrants aren't nearly as draining to the Colorado economy as some would have you believe.

Per a report released by DataUSA, by the end of 2019, there were 2.82 million legal employees statewide. Also in 2019, per the Migration Policy Institute, there were only 105,000 illegal immigrants employed via the ITIN. For those who have never heard of the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), it was established by the IRS in 1996 and allows those who don't have a Social Security Number to work and pay taxes. This includes allowing illegal immigrants to … well … pay taxes legally at legally obtained work. These “legal taxes” do come with a caveat; holders of ITIN’s are still not classified as citizens, thereby preventing them access from social programs in most states—but more on that in a minute. The way the ITIN has been established also has clauses that prevent the identity of the person holding the number from being turned over to any department which could lead to that person being deported.


Though the amount of illegal immigrants employed via the ITIN is only 3.7% of the entire workforce, the amount of tax revenues generated by illegal immigrants working in Colorado is nothing to shrug at. Per a report released by the American Immigration Council, undocumented immigrants in Colorado paid an estimated $272.8 million in federal taxes and $156.5 million in state and local taxes in 2018. These numbers not only give a glimpse into what kind of financial impact could be felt if all the immigrants were immediately ran out of America en mass, but they also give a bit of needed context to a controversial law that went into effect in July that has been used by conservatives in labeling Colorado as a welfare state tethered to illegal immigration: SB 217.


The law signed by Democratic Governor Jared Polis no longer requires legal US residency to obtain state and local government benefits, professional licenses, or business permits. The law makes available a number of state benefits, including dental care, mental health counseling, and family services. It also expands eligibility for property tax, rent, and utility subsidies. Of course, this will cost money, but it's nowhere near what the Republican party would like you to believe if you take their hyperbole at face value. In total, the estimated cost for expanding eligibility to immigrants is $12 million a year, according to the Legislative Council Staff of Colorado. Given that the migrants pay $156.5 million in state taxes, I doubt $12 million for SB 217 will cripple the book-balancing.


Though I could use these numbers alone as a means to a mic-drop, there’s one final (historical) example of the economic truths that a diverse community of migrants and other minorities can provide to a country that I’d like to reference.  

As someone who has seen too many failures of history become repeated events, there is one historical calamity regarding immigrants that I hope the US never attempts: the complete exile of a minority group—like was done in Uganda during the 1970s. In 1972, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin decided to use his influence to target a specific group when it came to the recent economic woes befalling the nation: Asians (leaning heavily on those who descended from India). Amin claimed that due to the large number of businesses that the ethnic subsection owned, they were to blame for all income inequality in the African nation. The people went for it, and a mass expulsion happened that same year. All the businesses owned by Indians were given to "true Ugandans." Within no time, zero economic traces of the minority people were left. The true countrymen and their dictator rejoiced.


This rejoicing, however, came a bit too soon as the years following the transfer of those businesses saw what was left of the hobbled Ugandan economy fall into utter ruin. Most of this collapse was due to the Ugandans who were left in charge of the businesses either abandoning them because they didn’t know how to do the work or simply didn't want to. Everything came to a standstill.


When looking at everything in totality—the statistics, the financial realities of the immigration system of a liberal-leaning state like Colorado, and history—one thing becomes clear: a lack of diversity through immigration in any nation will have catastrophic results. With that said, though our current immigration system isn’t attempting a complete expulsion of every immigrant that crosses the border, it carries with it none of the aforementioned hallmarks that can lead to success. Grotesquely, it’s also morphing into a grand political show featured on a national stage where real lives are being toyed with in order to make a self-serving point.


Sustaining this model in a long-term sense isn't going to lead to success, I promise.


Hopefully, the analytics will get past a breaking point someday and we will see a complete overhaul of the immigration system. One that’s predicated on positive changes like easier paths toward inclusion. This will naturally lead to more taxpayers in the system—something Republicans love. Given that President Reagan has achieved God-like status in the Republican mythos, and he gave three million illegal immigrants amnesty in 1986, this idea should work well, shouldn’t it?