Immigrant marchers see little progress
AVON ” Immigrants who took to the streets of Eagle County en masse last May to push for greater rights say not much has changed in the last year.
“The only think I’ve seen that’s happened is they stepped up their enforcement,” said Alonso Varela, referring to raids such as the one at the Swift and Co. meatpacking plant in Greeley in December.
Varela is an Eagle-Vail resident who helped organize local marches last year.
Thousands of immigrants marched from Avon to Edwards last May 1. The demonstrations coincided with marches across the nation.
There were no local marches this year.
The marchers said they wanted better opportunities for illegal workers to become legal. They also said they wanted easier paths to citizenship for immigrants.
Even if there hasn’t been much action on the issues, the demonstrations did bring more prominence to the issues, Varela said.
“It’s been talked about a lot,” he said. “It really put the issue out there. I just think government is really slow.”
Varela said he expects some kind of progress on the issues he’s advocating over the next couple of years ” perhaps after the presidential election.
“I’m thinking there is going to be something happening because the issue hasn’t really faded away,” he said. “You still hear it on the news, articles and whatnot. The issue is out there and it hasn’t been resolved and it isn’t going to go away until it is resolved.”
Saul Martinez, an immigrant who works as a carpenter in Eagle County, said nothing has changed since he marched in Avon last year.
“The president, he’s too busy thinking about the war,” Martinez said.
The government doesn’t want to change the system because illegal immigrants pay taxes yet do not receive benefits such as Social Security, Martinez said.
“They say they’re going to fix it, but I don’t think the government wants to fix the problem,” he said.
Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities of the Western Slope, which advocates for immigrants, said the protests got people talking, whether or not they supported the immigrants.
“The pitch of the debate has raised, but we’re still kind of stuck,” Ziemann said.
Progress in Washington has been slowed by partisanship, Ziemann said, and legislation passed on the state level has been ineffective.
The state passed a law last summer to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits such as food stamps. The law hasn’t saved the state any money and has only caused headaches for people who are rightfully entitled to the benefits, Ziemann said.
“It’s just lip service,” Ziemann said.
Last year’s marches seemed to provoke more anti-immigrant feelings, and that might be a reason why immigrants kept a low profile this May, he said.
“They are taking a lower profile but I still think they are just as hopeful and determined to stick ito ut until they get a legal remedy for the situation,” Ziemann said.
Immigrants’ labor is needed in the U.S., and the low unemployment rate is testament to that, Ziemann said.
Immigrants simply want to have some kind of path toward being here legally, Ziemann said.
“The door is not wide open,” he said. “It’s only open with a little crack.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.