Today, Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Bethany Pray provided testimony for Senate Bill 24-093, Continuity of Health-Care Coverage Change. CCLP is in support of SB24-093.
CCLP Policy Fellow, Milena Castañeda testified at the Medical Services Board meeting regarding emergency rules for the NEMT.
Chaer Robert provided testimony against House Bill 24-1065, Reduction of State Income Taxes. CCLP is in opposition of HB24-1065.
Myths & Facts: Ending Colorado’s Unconstitutional Sponsorship Law
HB23-1117, CONCERNING REQUIREMENTS FOR AFFIDAVITS OF SUPPORT RELATED TO ELIGIBILITY FOR PUBLIC BENEFITS IN COLORADO, was signed into law on April 11, 2023.
In the mid-90s, President Bill Clinton famously promised to “end welfare as we know it,” by capping the number of years for eligibility and imposing restrictions for certain public benefits. Non-citizens were hit particularly hard as part of that misguided goal as federal legislation created specific scenarios in which immigrants qualify for federal and state benefits as well as barred non-citizens from accessing benefits for five years. The legislation – the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) – also invited states to legislate around certain aspects of immigrant access to public benefits.
Colorado responded by enacting Senate Bill 97-171, Concerning Assistance Programs for Immigrants. The bill deviated from all other states by imposing a condition on non-citizens who otherwise qualified for benefits to refrain from sponsoring individuals from other countries. Therefore, a non-citizen entitled to benefits must decide between receiving a benefit, like medical assistance or old-age pension, or sponsoring a loved one to come to the United States. Such a provision is unlawful and unconstitutional, which may be the reason other states did not enact similar legislation.
Immigration issues are in the sole domain of the federal government – a concept called “field preemption.” The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that Congress has exclusive power over immigration and Congress has used that power by enacting the Immigration and Nationality Act, which includes standards about sponsorship. E.g., 8 U.S.C. § 1183. In other words, states may not pass legislation that concerns immigration. The sponsorship provision in Colorado’s current law violates field preemption because it imposes additional criteria on individuals seeking to sponsor a family member.
The sponsorship provision also violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it treats qualified non-citizens and citizens differently for no compelling reason. Citizens who are entitled to benefits are free to receive such benefits and sponsor whomever they would like, while non-citizens may not.
House Bill 23-1117 repeals the sponsorship provisions and requires county departments to remove any reference to the sponsorship prohibition in their materials. Although the bill passed out of the House with overwhelming support, it is worth dispelling some myths surrounding this legislation.
Myth #1: This bill deviates from federal policy and breaks federal law.
Fact: The current language in Colorado law deviates from federal law. The state of Colorado never had the authority to pass the provisions in SB97-171.
Myth #2: The bill incentivizes immigrants to come to Colorado.
Fact: This bill brings Colorado in line with every other state. No other state that CCLP has found imposes a sponsorship restriction for the receipt of benefits. Until relatively recently, this policy was not even enforced other than to include some language in applications that qualified non-citizens must agree not to sponsor individuals while on benefits.
Myth #3: This bill changes the income threshold for individuals to sponsor an immigrant.
Fact: The state has no control over who can sponsor an immigrant. Even with this provision in place, it is the federal government that sets the income requirements for individuals seeking to sponsor an individual from another country.
Myth #4: This bill will overburden the public benefits system.
Fact: To the extent this bill increases the number of immigrants coming to Colorado – a questionable and unproven premise – new immigrants are not eligible for federally funded benefits for five years. Additionally, immigrants are far less likely to participate in benefits programs than their native-born counterparts and studies have found that immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government services and benefits.