Immigration to Colorado
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Colorado, the country’s third fastest growing state, has experienced a population growth of 31 percent between 1990 and 2000, and is now home to 4.3 million people. In 1990, immigrants in Colorado accounted for approximately 25 percent of the state's added growth. As of 2000, estimates show that there are 41 people per square mile, a 28 percent increase. Colorado has long showed concern about the increasing population growth impacting the quality of life, and in 1970 Colorado marked the first city to turn down the Olympics. This discourse is still popular, and 72 percent of Colorado voters view population growth as a major threat to the quality of life.
Illegal Immigration to Colorado
USCIS estimates that 144,000 illegal immigrants resided in Colorado as of 2000, indicating a rise of 122 percent. With the tenth largest illegal alien population in the United States, Colorado continues to draw in undocumented immigrants to the state. Many feel the cost of illegal immigration such as the cost of arrest, detention, and deportation, is being footed by the tax payers of Colorado; thus, further increasing the burden on the state. In 1999 Colorado requested compensation of $24 million from the federal government (under the federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP) towards the incarceration of illegal immigrants. However, Colorado taxpayers still had pay $14.8 million, as the federal government only paid $9.2 million in compensation.
Problems Caused by Population Increase
In the 1990s, Colorado’s foreign-born population increased by 160 percent. Between 1990 to 2000 Colorado experienced a growth of immigrants totaling 227,000, bringing the state's population of foreign-born residents to 370,000. It is projected that Colorado’s population will grow by 24% percent between 2000-2025. In 1990, approximately 47 percent of immigrants in Colorado became naturalized, a number that has since continued to decrease. Records indicate that only 32 percent of immigrants became naturalized citizens in 2000. Experts remark that as population increases, open space decreases, housing becomes more crowded, commuting time increases, and air pollution worsens. With more people moving to Colorado, many families feel that the open space that made them move to the state is now disappearing. In fact, Colorado lost 22,500 acres of farmland and open space due to development, and has experienced the second largest growth in housing development in the nation. With the increasing amount of people in the state, Colorado’s traffic and commute has increased by 17 percent between 1990 and 2000. It is estimated that Colorado’s commuters are spending approximately 35 hours per year in excess commute times and that the wasted fuels and delays cost commuters $1,235 annually. To alleviate traffic congestion, an additional 2,300 miles of roads are needed, but only half of this is estimated to be constructed.
With Colorado's increasing population growth, school admissions are also increasing. Colorado’s enrollment in elementary and high school is expected to pass one million students by 2025. In order to maintain its current student-teacher ratio, Colorado schools would need an additional 5,000 teachers. The projected increase in population growth also calls for new construction of schools. It is estimated that at least 20 new schools per year are needed, with an estimated cost of $175 million. Illegal immigration also translates into increased education costs. In fact, it is estimated that educating immigrant children from Mexico costs Colorado taxpayers at least $50 million per year, in addition to the costs of offering undocumented immigrants reduced in-state tuition rates.
Colorado is facing increasing problems in meeting the demands of affordable housing. Often, there is a correlation between an increase in foreign-born populations and severely crowded housing. With a 162 percent increase in the number of foreign-born individuals, Colorado has become severely crowded. Minimum wage jobs in the state have a current pay rate of $5.15. That means in order for an individual in Colorado to afford to pay rent for a two-bedroom apartment he or she would have to work a total of 124 hours per week. The average price of homes in Colorado’s 15 poorest neighborhoods have increased by 153 percent in recent years, further exacerbating the problem. This increase in housing cost is also negatively affecting the elderly, who often pay more than 50 percent of their income towards the housing costs. 18 percent of immigrants in Colorado have incomes that are below the poverty level, and this rate rises to 22 percent for immigrant non-citizens residing in the state. It is estimated that 20% of immigrant households need some type of welfare benefit in Colorado, and 54 percent of immigrant residents 21 and over have a high school degree. Data also indicates that immigrants are more willing to work at substandard working conditions and wages as opposed to non-immigrants. As a result, wages in the state have often been depressed. At the end of 2002, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, resulting from layoffs of more than 60,000 workers.
With the sprawling effect, Colorado’s natural resources are being exhausted, which has lead to additional conflicts. The agriculture of Colorado has been severely damaged and water conservation efforts are in effect due to a depletion of water supply. Within the next 30 years, it is estimated that Colorado may need 500,000 acre-feet of new water. In addition, Metro Denver has received the designation of the nation’s fourth worst case of urban sprawl, but has been alleviated with the assistance of organized neighborhood groups who purchase land and protect it from development.