Valley watching immigration reform carefully |

Valley watching immigration reform carefully

AP Photo/ Sandy HuffakerAbel Gomez, left, from the Mexican state of Guerrero, looks on during a planning meeting for an immigrant march at Saint Leo Mission Church in Solana Beach, Calif.

EAGLE COUNTY ” After nine years living in the United States illegally, Benjamin Monares might have a chance to become a U.S. citizen.

Monares, 28, a Mexican national who lives in Avon, is among an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country would be allowed to stay and seek citizenship if the Senate approves a proposed immigration bill.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration-reform package that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship and would also create a guest-worker program for immigrants.

The decision came after hundreds of thousands across the country ” including about 50,000 in Denver and half a million in Los Angeles ” rallied Saturday against legislation passed in December by the U.S. House of Representatives that would crack down on undocumented immigrants, penalize those who help them and build a security wall along the country’s southern border.

Ultimately, the House and Senate bills must be reconciled before a law can be passed.

“It’s a relief,” said Monares of the Senate Committee’s move. “This law affects all people, not just the illegal immigrants. If approved, it means more equality for all workers.

“If things were more simple I would consider to stay, to have a better future. I believe if the legislation passes, more doors will open. But the most important thing is to learn English,” added Monares, who works in construction six days a week and is studying English in Avon.

To Chris Pooley, an immigrant attorney from Avon, the guest- worker program would benefit the Vail Valley.

“The current immigration system doesn’t meet the needs of the United States’ economy, that’s why there are so many illegal workers. There is a need for more foreign workers,” said Pooley, who helps several companies in the valley to get visas for their foreign employees.

“The Vail Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley are niches unlike the rest of the country,” he said. “You can advertise a job in Vail at the prevailing job wage rate, and get no qualified U.S. workers. Whereas in most of the major cities, where there is unemployment, if you advertise, they’ll probably be enough U.S. workers. That’s because of the cost of living here and the seasonal jobs.”

The owner of a store in Vail, who asked not to be identified, agreed with Pooley. In the 24 years he’s had his business, he has hired mostly Americans, but lately he gets foreigners ” 90 percent of whom have work visas.

“They work a lot. They’re here to make money not to ski,” he said.

Though he pays them the same, the store owner said it’s their commitment to work that makes the difference.

“They work better and they come every day,” he said. “In the past I hired Americans who don’t want to work or they leave in the middle of the season.”

Despite the reforms passed by the Senate committee Monday, Pooley said he still has doubts that the bill will get passed by the Senate, which Wednesday opened two weeks of debate on the proposed legislation.

Pooley said dealing with enforcement only hasn’t worked in the past.

“Critics of this point out that the U.S. government has vastly increased its spending on border security in the past 10 years and during that time lots of illegal immigrants have crossed the border,” Pooley said.

“The big hurdle to the guest-worker legislation is that critics say it will reward people who came to the U.S. illegally,” Pooley added. “Rather than rewarding illegal immigration, it will be adapting our immigration laws to meet the needs of the economy.”

If the Senate approves just an enforcement type of law, the business owner in Vail said the might have to go out of business.

“We need more temporary visas, which are hard to get for small companies,” he said. “I’d have to close the shop, because I won’t be able to get help.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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