Aspen Chamber Resort Association to renew push for immigration reform

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s board is gearing up for another push for immigration reform, with plans to vote in late September on a new resolution calling for compassion and legal status for undocumented workers.

A vote on the resolution is scheduled for the board’s next meeting Sept. 24 at the Sky Hotel, according to Warren Klug, a board member and general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel.

Klug said the vote also is timed to coincide with a Sept. 27 visit to Aspen from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. In recent years, Klug has attempted to convince Tipton of the need to relax federal policy on illegal immigration, but Tipton’s stance has mirrored that of conservative Republicans in the House who oppose providing some type of amnesty for undocumented workers.

Klug said he discussed the issue with Tipton at a recent Leadville town-hall meeting and found the congressman representing the sprawling western Colorado congressional district to be attentive. The U.S. Senate recently passed comprehensive and consolidated immigration reform, but House Republicans want to take a more piecemeal approach.

“Somehow we need to help these people come out of the shadows to gain legal status to work, to be assured that deportation is not an issue they have to deal with.”
Warren Klug
Aspen Chamber Resort Association board member

So far, they aren’t budging on the matter of allowing some type of legal status for undocumented workers, he said.

“Tipton is supporting the House approach, but the problem is the House seems to want to push the issue of the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. to the back burner and perhaps do it later,” Klug said.

Klug said he and other reform advocates are stressing three points:

• Foreigners who get advanced degrees in the United States currently must return to their native countries.

“That seems crazy, as those people are using their degrees to compete with us,” he said. “In fact, there’s a market for those graduates right here. There seems to be widespread agreement on that.”

• The agricultural industry needs a lot of labor.

“They have traditionally depended upon immigrant labor, much of which includes undocumented people,” Klug said. “The industry is not getting the numbers they need and if they try to follow the rules to do it right, it’s expensive and cumbersome. You hear stories throughout the country and Colorado of farmers with crops rotting in the fields because they can’t get enough workers.”

• The status of the estimated 11 million undocumented workers nationwide needs to change.

“Somehow we need to help these people come out of the shadows to gain legal status to work, to be assured that deportation is not an issue they have to deal with,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s right to preclude citizenship down the road, as well.”

Klug suggests that undocumented employees who are given legal status to work be required to pay U.S. income taxes. Eventually, they should be allowed to become U.S. citizens as long as they don’t run afoul of the law, he said.

“You have to follow the rules,” Klug said. “There should be fines and fees so that whatever system we set up is self-funding and not a drag on the national budget.”

The Senate approach to reform legislation says that workers cannot gain citizenship for at least 13 years, Klug said.

“So it’s not (full) amnesty; it’s not a free gift. But they would get legal work status right away as long as they follow the rules,” he said.

Millions of working illegal immigrants already are paying into the Social Security system, he said, but they aren’t allowed to realize the benefits of it.

In 2011, the local chamber board passed a resolution calling for immigration reform, Klug noted. The revised resolution he already has presented to board members for consideration next month mentions the controversial proposal that would require employers to use E-Verify software to conduct background checks on potential workers before hiring them.

Klug opposes such an imposition.

“In times of economic challenges, making life harder for employers is not a positive step,” the proposed resolution states.