AARP AARP States Colorado

AARP “White Shirts” Fight Discriminatory Language

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AARP Colorado's volunteer advocates submitted testimony to the Colorado Legislature in support of House Bill 21-1075, “Replace the Term Illegal Alien,” by using email and the legislature’s web access system, and Gov. Jared Polis signed it into law April 15.

"Words matter," Erlinda Archuleta, AARP advocacy volunteer said.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Susan Lontine and Julie Gonzales, will replace the term "illegal alien" with "worker without authorization" as it relates to public contracts for services. The AARP advocacy team was pleased to see the language "go away for good," said Irene Martinez Jordan, AARP Colorado advocacy volunteer and member of AARP's El Comité.

"My name is Jean Nofles, volunteer state president for AARP of Colorado and its 660,000-plus members in Colorado," Nofles told lawmakers, virtually. "AARP strongly supports HB 21-1075."

In her testimony, Nofles said: “This section of the Colorado Revised Statutes is focused on preventing contractors and subcontractors from knowingly hiring unauthorized workers and retaining them once their unauthorized status is known. The direct focus is on contractors, but the indirect focus is on the potential employees who feel the sting of hostile language.

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"The phrase, 'illegal alien' has worked its way into our everyday vernacular," Nofles said. "People use it without giving thought to how it can deny the humanity and legitimacy of non-citizens and/or their American family members — words matter and words can hurt. A change of terms in the state’s contracting documents will demonstrate that the state understands the need for respect and civility in public contracting.”

In addition to Nofles and Archuleta, AARP volunteer advocate A.W. Schnellbacher also submitted testimony to approve the bill.

While pleased the bill passed, Kelli Fritts, the director of the advocacy team, lamented the process to testify.

“We have a citizen legislature, yet it is very frustrating for citizens to testify this year," she said. "We are making do, but the technology being used is far from user-friendly.” During a normal legislative session, AARP Colorado’s volunteer legislative advocacy team would be at the State Capitol in their signature white shirts to testify on behalf of older Coloradans and all consumers."

COVID-19 has made that an impossibility this session, but that hasn’t stopped the “white shirts” from using all other means available to testify to state legislators. AARP advocacy volunteers have come to be known as the "white shirts" because many wear white shirts with the red AARP logo when visiting the state house to testify, or show support or opposition for certain proposed laws that would impact older adults one way or the other.

_Carol Lynn Tiegs is an AARP volunteer and Colorado writer

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