Arizona immigration law spurs reaction in Aspen |

Arizona immigration law spurs reaction in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The debate over Arizona’s new immigration law has spilled over into Colorado – where two gubernatorial candidates said they’d support a similar measure in this state – and to Aspen, where some resort officials have decried the Arizona law, but believe the nation needs to take up immigration reform.

Even before Republican gubernatorial hopeful Scott McInnis, a Glenwood Springs native, this week said he’d sign a similar bill to Arizona’s if it crossed his desk as governor, some members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors were shaking their heads over Arizona’s attempt to address the flow of illegal immigrants into that state from across the Mexico border.

Arizonans fault Washington for failing to deal with the issue as justification for the new law, which directs state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal. Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they’re are allowed to be in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500 – a significant escalation of the typical punishment for being here illegally: deportation.

The Arizona law has already spawned threats of lawsuits, calls for boycotts on travel to the state and business dealings there, and talk of a statewide referendum to repeal it.

Critics say the law legitimizes discrimination and racial profiling. Members of the ACRA board suggested Congress needs to take up the hot-button issue rather than let the Arizona approach gather steam, but President Barack Obama has conceded lawmakers may not have the “appetite” to take on immigration this year, while many of them are up for re-election in November.

In a resort that depends on foreign workers, some Aspen chamber representatives called for a program that ensures workers are in this country legally, not one that subjects part of the population to police stops to check their documentation.

“The Arizonans are not going to pick their own lettuce. They’re not going to pick their own melons,” said Michael Owsley, Pitkin County commissioner and a member of the ACRA board. “I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

“I don’t agree with police power to ask for identification and arrest people without documents,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, who did not attend the ACRA meeting. “That could mean me … I don’t always have that stuff with me.

“I don’t think that’s the way to do it. It reflects a mean-spirited view of people – that they’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Warren Klug, a local hotelier and chairman of the ACRA board, said he believes the federal government needs to legalize the foreign workers who are in the country now.

“I didn’t say amnesty. I didn’t say citizenship. I said legalization,” stressed Klug, acknowledging the explosiveness of the issue.

The Arizona approach would be detrimental locally, he said.

“We want to recognize that we employ a lot of wonderful people who are from other places,” Klug said. “We want to make sure people are treated fairly.”

The softening of the economy has meant more local residents are available to fill jobs at The Little Nell, said general manager John Speers, an ACRA board member, but there are still service jobs for which the hotel depends on legal foreign workers.

“They are willing to do the jobs that many people don’t want to do,” he said. “I’m ready to hire anybody in this valley who is willing to do the work.”

Kitchen and housekeeping staffs all over Aspen are filled with foreign workers, Klug agreed, calling the employees essential to the resort and to Colorado.

While the uproar over Arizona’s approach spills into neighboring states, Obama has asked the Justice Department to complete a review of the law’s implications before deciding how to proceed.

McInnis, staking out his position on the issue, said Colorado has the right as a state to do something about immigration if the federal government continues to ignore it. Dan Maes, another Republican running for Colorado governor, has also said he would support the Arizona model.

Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper said he would veto such a measure, as has current Gov. Bill Ritter, who said he believes the Arizona law is unconstitutional and will be struck down by the courts.

For Aspen resident and businessman Keith Hatanaka, it’s the wrong approach and one he said he doesn’t want to see adopted in Colorado.

“Speaking as a citizen, it’s probably unconstitutional and it’s racial profiling,” he said. “It’s bigotry. It’s targeting one segment of the population because of the way they look.”

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said he doesn’t personally believe Arizona’s approach is the right one. From a law enforcement perspective, it’s fraught with pitfalls, he said.

“It would be difficult for any police department to rationally enforce laws like this,” he said. “What gives you reasonable suspicion? Is it skin color? Is it accent?”

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