Immigration ideas flop among county leaders
EAGLE COUNTY – While lawmakers in Denver last week announced plans to tackle immigration reform on the state level, local officials couldn’t come up with much in favor of the proposed fixes.A Democrat-led advocacy group, Defend Colorado Now, wants to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to deny many government services to illegal immigrants in the state. Meanwhile, Republican legislators outlined a series of bills to enlist local police to enforce immigration laws, punish those who hire illegal immigrants and require schools to track students’ immigration status.Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said he wasn’t familiar with the specifics of the proposed legislation but took issue with several of the main points.”The problem is that even if we were capable of enforcing those (immigration) laws, there’s no room in our jails,” Henninger said. “At the state level, they’d need to come up with the resources to do this, and they have no resources.”Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said he needed to study the legislation as well, but believes the solutions should come from Washington.”These issues should be resolved at a national level, not a state or local level,” Runyon said, adding that he likes the idea of a guest-worker visa that would allow people to be in the country legally for a set amount of time.”Clearly, from everybody’s point of view, we’d love to have these people made legal,” he said. “We have a huge percentage of our labor force in this county that falls into that (illegal) category. We need to look at that – it’s an economic reality.”
Henninger said a greater concern for him is public safety for everyone in his jurisdiction, legal or otherwise.”That basic life safety issue is one of the tenets our country is founded on,” he said. “Legal or not, you shouldn’t be beaten up or be the victim of domestic violence. We have to be willing to take care of those situations no matter a person’s status.”If the Vail Police Department were compelled to become an enforcer of immigration laws, Henninger said, it would have a chilling effect on those here illegally.”The last thing I want is for people here illegally being afraid to call us and report that they’ve been victimized,” he said. “I fear there would be that potential if we were asked to participate.”There’s also the issue of money, he said. “Everyone thinks Vail is rich, but like everyone else we’re busy with what we’ve got to take care of now,” Henninger said. “I struggle just to keep up with the new laws, procedures and tactics to protect the community as it should be protected. Immigration enforcement is a federal job, not a local or even a state job.”Schools
The proposal to make schools responsible for the immigration status of students doesn’t sit too well with Eagle County School District Superintendent John Brendza. “When it comes to being responsible for immigration information, I’ve got some real questions about that,” Brendza said. “Our entire mission is educating any student in our schools, and I’d far rather see kids in schools because it’s the safest place for them during the day, and the place for meeting their needs in terms of educating them.”Public schools have taken on a number of additional responsibilities beyond educating students over the past few decades, Brendza said, and adding immigration monitoring to the load would only detract from the main mission.”These students are in our community, and I have a moral obligation to see that their educational needs are being met,” he said. “That doesn’t include checking the immigration status of the child or the parent.”Like Henninger and Runyon, Brendza said it should be a federal obligation.Capitol viewState Rep. Gary Lindstrom, a Democrat who represents Eagle County and is also a candidate for governor, said he thinks those proposing the new legislation are “off base.” His position is that none of the new bills would change the current situation, and he’s more in favor of a guest-worker visa as a partial solution.
“It’s silly to think that Colorado, a state 700 miles from the Mexican border, should have immigration policy and laws that impact our undocumented workers,” Lindstrom said. “They’re not a threat.”A lot of the rhetoric, he said, is coming from “ethnophobia” – people who are afraid of certain ethnic groups.”I lived in Georgia in 1960, and that’s how they felt about black people there at the time,” Lindstrom said. “There’s a very large population of people in Colorado who feel as though they’re being threatened by immigration, who see (Hispanics) as second-class citizens taking something away from white people.”He said many of the stereotypes and concerns regarding illegal immigrants are based not in fact but fear. One issue Lindstrom acknowledges is real is the concern from employers who feel the immigrant workforce is skewing the labor market.”I get a call from a drywaller who says his competition is hiring (illegal immigrants) for less money and he can’t compete,” he said. “That’s a good argument, and I really believe everybody should pay taxes and that everyone should have the same kind of operating expenses. The open market shouldn’t have unfair advantages.”A guest-worker visa, Lindstrom said, would allow better tracking of immigrants.”We’d know who they are and where they’re working so when the visa expires we’d know they’re required to leave,” he said. The idea has stalled in Washington, Lindstrom said, because the Democrats don’t want to vote for a Bush program and the Republicans are too conservative.
“They feel like they’re honoring their constituents because they hear ‘let’s get rid of all the Mexicans,” he said.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado