Area business leaders and the mayor of Aspen spoke out Thursday morning in support of a sweeping immigration bill they say is vital to the Roaring Fork Valley’s local economy.
Representatives from the construction, hospitality and ski industries, as well as three Pitkin County commissioners and Mayor Steve Skadron, called on U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, for action. They all agreed that with current policy, there is a large, untapped group of immigrant workers waiting to contribute.
Mark Gould, owner of Gould Construction, was one of two registered Republicans on hand at the news conference. He blamed the extremists in his own party for congressional inaction.
“We need to stop letting the far right wing of the (Republican party) hijack what is right for America,” Gould said.
In June, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill that includes provisions for border security, a 13-year pathway to citizenship, access to college, a focus on family unity and a more efficient process for legal immigration. But without Republican support, the Senate version is unlikely to pass in the House of Representatives. President Barack Obama recently said he would be open to a piecemeal approach to immigration overhaul.
In each of the past 10 years, Aspen Skiing Co. has employed between 300 and 400 workers who require H-2B visas, which are designated for temporary foreign workers in nonagricultural industries. This winter season, due to paperwork and bureaucratic delays, Skico is no longer staffing H-2B workers.
“Congressman Tipton, it is your turn,” said Matt Hamilton, sustainability director of Skico. “Smart, sensible immigration legislation recognizes that this is a nation of immigrants and that our continued success depends on immigrants from across the globe.”
County Commissioner Rachel Richards represents Club 20, a coalition of farmers, ranchers, agriculturists, business leaders, construction workers and miners in Colorado’s 22 western counties. Made up mostly of conservatives in what Richards described as a “heavy overlap of Tipton’s region,” Club 20 has pledged unanimous support for immigration reform. Citing failure of the farm bill’s passing and delays in transportation funding, Richards said the holdup with immigration reform is symptomatic of a failing system.
Warren Klug, chairman of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s board of directors and general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel, said the hospitality industry also depends on immigrant workers. He said the biggest issue with reform — the issue lawmakers shy away from — is the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. The aim of reform, he said, is for earned citizenship, not amnesty. He said the online verification system for employers, E-Verify, will result in improved border security.
“People will not come across the border illegally in the same numbers if, in fact, they can’t come here and work,” Klug said.
County Commissioner Steve Child said the U.S. has a long and rich history of generous immigration laws. His first ancestor to arrive in America was an 11-year-old boy who made the trip with his uncle in 1630 to the Massachusetts colony. He said there are many children in the Roaring Fork Valley who have arrived in similar circumstances, and he would like to see them get the same opportunities.
“It’s not only a human-rights issue but a business and economic issue that affects each of us in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley every day,” Skadron said.