Recent raids in Summit put fear into workers |

Recent raids in Summit put fear into workers

Kimberly Nicoletti
High Country Business Review

Recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency raids in Summit County have created increased fear and tension within the Hispanic employee pool, said Kameron Holloway, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center in Dillon.

Immigration officers came through Summit County between June 20 and 22, arresting at least 28 people and causing a number of employees to skip work out of fear. The arrests were part of a national sweep aimed at reducing the number of illegal workers in the United States.

Even some legal immigrants feared showing up at work or sending their kids to preschool or day care out of concern of being mistaken for someone else, Holloway said.

“The fear is fairly pervasive, but it was a small, isolated event that spread like wildfire,” she said. “I heard it was way bigger than it was as soon as I walked into my office.”

Holloway works to dispel fear among employees and employers. He said employers shouldn’t buy into rumors or panic about raids but should check documentation and continue fair hiring practices.

Many employers are concerned about current and future legislation regarding documentation of workers. However, fear of being raided does not seem to be affecting employers’ hiring practices because they need of employees, according to Andrew Gibbs, of Peliton Human Resources in Denver.

Still, employers face dilemmas when it comes to employees coming out, so to speak, and saying they want to use their real names on their paychecks in case the government begins granting amnesty.

“Employers still need quality employees, so there’s still kind of a blind eye that’s turned,” Gibbs said.

House Bill 1342, passed last August and in effect as of Jan. 1, requires companies that carry out state work to use the Basic Pilot Program to verify legal status of their employees and their subcontractors’ employees.

Companies working in the private sector do not need to use the Basic Pilot Program to verify documentation of birth date, name and Social Security number. But they must photocopy and retain copies of I-9 documentation. They also must sign a new form of affirmation of legal work status, Gibbs said.

An estimated 4.9 percent of the total United States work force is illegal, and 56 percent of those workers are thought to originate from Mexico, Gibbs said. About 11.5 percent of the country’s overall population is foreign-born, Holloway said, and an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people per year come into the country illegally.

In Summit County, the population increased by 83 percent from 1990 to 2000, but the foreign-born population increased by 722 percent, Holloway said. Most move to Summit and the Vail Valley because wages are higher.

In Colorado, Hispanics currently have $10 billion in spending power, and in 2010, estimates say nationwide Hispanics will have $1 trillion in spending power. As a result, many companies, including Citi Bank, Wells Fargo and Wal-Mart are spending millions of dollars to market to Hispanics.

“What we’re seeing … is a tremendous opportunity for businesses to tap into this market ” a new labor pool and new customers,” Holloway said.

The only problem is that employers assume when they hire a Spanish-speaking employee, they’re talking to all Spanish-speaking consumers. But subtle nuances in language make this untrue. For example, Holloway pointed out that the Puerto Rican word for “bus” in Spanish is the same word for “baby” in Chile.

The key is to understand cultural diversity more and more so that business owners are educated, rather than operating on hearsay.

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