As Colorado continues to recover from COVID-19’s economic fallout, the state is making strides to speed up the process. One way – Senate Bill (SB) 21-199, which makes it easier for undocumented immigrants to fully participate in Colorado’s economy by removing barriers to professional and commercial licenses.
“Our state will no longer discriminate based on citizenship status,” explained Lorena Garcia, the executive director for Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition. “This is a huge step in the right direction, especially right now. COVID-19 forced many early care and education centers to close. Now that parents are able to get back to work, there’s a shortage of quality facilities. This legislation comes at just the right time as parents and children need quality early care and education programs, and undocumented immigrants want to be legitimate workers in fields, like child care, that require a license. It really is a win-win.”
Garcia explained that the legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in late June, is especially beneficial to women. Early care and education facilities and home-based centers are predominantly owned by women and when they shuttered due to COVID-19, these women business owners lost their livelihoods. But the damage didn’t end there. With nowhere to send their children, other working women were forced out of their jobs in order to care for their children full time. Where COVID-19 created a domino effect of doom, SB21-199 creates a ripple effect of opportunity.
The law not only provides undocumented workers the opportunity to receive occupational and commercial licenses in Colorado, it also allows them to apply for grants, contracts and loans. Additionally, these individuals can apply for public benefits that are not explicitly prohibited by federal law.
“Undocumented immigrants in Colorado pay more than $5 billion in federal and state taxes each year and until now, they were unable to receive any state or local supported public assistance,” Garcia said. “This legislation allows them to not only participate in the economy by working as child care providers, nurses, programs – like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid – that they’ve already been paying for via taxes. It’s about health equity and fairness and this bill brings us closer to both.”
Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition is a subgrantee of Small Business Majority, a national small business organization that empowers America's diverse entrepreneurs to build a thriving and equitable economy. As a grantee of Voices for Healthy Kids, Small Business Majority received the funding and technical assistance needed to make SB21-199 a success.
“This is a major advancement for everyone – our state, our citizens and the people living and working here without legal status,” said Lindsey Vigoda, the Colorado director of Small Business Majority. “As the first state in the nation to put a law like this on the books, Colorado has made itself a leader in immigrant rights. We hope other states follow suit so that all children and families can live healthy, prosperous lives.”