DENVER - APRIL 15: A demonstrator bows her head in prayer while attending a 'Tax Day Tea Party' protest at the state capitol building on April 15, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. Tea Party groups held anti-government protests nationwide on the day when Americans must file their annual income tax returns. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A state agency in Colorado has disobeyed a state law because officials in the Department of Labor & Unemployment thought the mandatory verification of the immigration status of unemployment benefit recipients would slow down their process of delivering checks to applicants.

The scandal was uncovered by researcher Todd Shepherd at the Independence Institute, which reported on internal e-mails obtained from the state revealing that officials in the agency told employees to disconnect a computer function that provided the mandatory checks on benefits applicants.

The internal documentation obtained from the agency revealed that Unemployment Insurance Director Mike Cullen instructed that “Work Order 51662” be implemented with a top priority.

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The move would result in the computer system ignoring a series of questions regarding citizenship asked of someone filing for unemployment insurance.

State officials confirmed yesterday to WND that the order was implemented, even though it meant that the agency was in direct violation of House Bill 06-1023. The bill, passed in a special session of the Colorado Legislature, demanded that certain government benefits, such as unemployment insurance, be denied to illegal aliens.

House Bill 06-1023 states, “It is the public policy of the state of Colorado that all persons eighteen years of age or older shall provide proof that they are lawfully present in the United States prior to receipt of certain public benefits.”

E-mail citing concerns over a state agency decision to ignore Colorado law

It requires agencies of the state to “verify the lawful presence in the United States of each natural person eighteen years of age or older who applies for state or local public benefits or for federal public benefits for the applicant.”

State agency spokesman Bill Thoennes confirmed to WND that the order suspending the state law’s application to unemployment benefits was implemented.

“The program [verifying status] was disabled,” he said. “We felt there were enough safeguards. …

“We would have left that program in place, however, we discovered it was slowing down the process,” he said.

He explained that as the “recession grew,” officials were concerned about delivering unemployment checks to everyone who applied quickly.

He said the agency notified members of a legislative committee assigned oversight of unemployment benefits, but the agency never heard back, so officials went ahead and discontinued enforcement of the state law anyway.

“We did not hear back from our legislative committee, [we] assumed that that meant they agreed with us,” he said. “We read that silence as permission to proceed.

“We are now awaiting word whether the committee instructs us to turn it back on.

E-mail citing concerns over a state agency decision to ignore Colorado law

The move came despite internal alarms from several workers, including one IT technician who wrote, “Do we need anything in writing from Mike Cullen as this seems to be a violation of the law?”

“Ain’t all so hard to do,” wrote another, “BUT we will effectively [be] disabling the legislatures HB-1023 which is now state law.”

Shepherd told WND the agency had responded publicly that it had rejected benefits for hundreds of illegal aliens trying to collect unemployment payments in Colorado. But the rejection was not the point of concern; the employees’ alarms were over the fact the state’s required program was being ignored.

The Independence Institute, founded in 1985, is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization that provides information to citizens, government leaders and others.

“This is gravely concerning,” state Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, told the Independence Institute, “These messages show clear intent to evade the law and to overrule any employee concerns. The department’s explanation sounds like a dodge, it’s a hassle to follow the law, so they ignored it.

“This situation demands an audit more powerfully than anything else I’ve seen in state government,” he continued. “It’s important to hold accountable the people who designed or carried out this illegal policy.”

Cullen resigned from the state agency after the directive was issued and works for a software firm addressing fraud in unemployment insurance.

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