County rethinks stand on U.S. immigration policy |

County rethinks stand on U.S. immigration policy

Allyn Harvey

The range of disagreement within the community over immigration displayed itself again yesterday at a meeting of Pitkin County commissioners, and the outcome of the discussion was nearly as befuddling as the problem itself.

The commissioners agreed to take a second look at a resolution on immigration they passed just six weeks ago. The resolution lists a plethora of environmental and social problems, ties them directly to population growth, and calls for the federal government to return to tighter immigration policies.

“This resolution scapegoats one group of people and blames them for causing a whole, horrible load of problems,” said Glenwood Springs attorney Calvin Lee.

He told the commissioners that his father was an illegal immigrant from China, while his grandmother on the other side of the family was a legal immigrant.

Lee and Denver immigration lawyer Robert Heiserman spent about 45 minutes attacking many of the assumptions in the resolution.

Heiserman conceded that some of the numbers the commissioners used to craft their resolution may be correct, including estimates that at current immigration levels, the population of the United States could reach a half a billion by 2050. But he pointed out that immigrants are filling jobs that would otherwise go unfilled, especially as the country’s native-born population continues to age.

On the question of illegal immigration, Heiserman said that current rules were adopted in the mid-1960s.

In the intervening decades, an entire industry has grown up around getting illegals into the country and providing them with false documents. The underground economy that has since developed lets employers abuse their illegal-immigrant employees, and makes it impossible for the employees to assert their rights under the law.

Heiserman also noted that Congress is considering new immigration laws that would forgive many illegals already living here and recognize the importance of immigrant labor in many local economies, including resorts like Aspen and Vail.

Resolutions like the one passed here last month make the task of reforming immigration law all the more difficult, he said.

The actual resolution calls on the federal government to reduce immigration (legal and illegal) from 900,000 annually to 175,000; include equitable wages and environmental protections in all nation-to-nation trade agreements; enforce existing immigration laws; and provide financial support for programs designed to assist Third World countries with family planning.

County Commissioners Leslie Lamont and Patti Clapper, both of whom voted for the resolution, said they were willing to reconsider their votes, but needed a more in-depth debate before deciding.

Commissioners Shellie Roy Harper and Mick Ireland were less receptive to Heiserman’s message.

Ireland rejected the idea that there are certain jobs that would go unfilled but for migrant laborers. And he questioned the country’s ability to assimilate nearly a million new residents each year.

“I don’t really care what Washington, D.C. thinks our resolution says – it says what it says,” he said.

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