Latino-oriented groups skeptical of Bush plan |

Latino-oriented groups skeptical of Bush plan

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

President Bush’s proposal to give illegal immigrant workers temporary legal status has received a skeptical reception from local organizations that work with the valley’s immigrant population.

One nonprofit worker went so far as to dismiss the proposal as a “short-term effort to win Latino votes.”

On Wednesday, Bush proposed allowing illegal immigrants three-year work visas, renewable for an unspecified period, in jobs that are not filled by American workers. Congress has yet to consider the proposal.

Word of Bush’s plan spread quickly around the Western Slope, where service-industry jobs in resort towns attract immigrant workers. While most are Latino, many undocumented workers comes from a variety of locations including New Zealand, Australia and Eastern Europe.

Chris Pooley, an attorney at Edwards-based Immigration Law Office of Sienna LaRene, says Bush’s plan addresses an under-acknowledged issue but is nonetheless misdirected.

“Our local economy is based largely on undocumented workers, so it would help the economy in general if the government acknowledged and supported these workers,” Pooley said. “In the end, though, you’ll still have an immigrant problem. This is just a Band-Aid for a lack of border enforcement.”

Scott Chaplin, a director at the Stepstone Center, a local nonprofit in Carbondale that works closely with the valley’s Latino community, called the proposal a “politically motivated gesture.” He says the plan will hurt legal workers.

“This won’t do much to alleviate the problems of immigration or improve the situation for workers in general,” Chaplin said. “It would be worse for U.S. workers competing with immigrant workers for jobs.”

Joan Baldwin, who runs an accounting service for Spanish speakers, disagrees with Chaplin, however, claiming that the plan will not threaten Americans jobs. She is concerned that if it is approved, the plan will splinter the Latino community, causing tension between legal and illegal residents.

“I’ve talked with the Colorado Department of Labor and they’ve told me there’s not that many jobs where illegal workers are displacing U.S. workers,” Baldwin said. “My concern is that Latinos who have worked hard for legal status might be upset if an illegal gets a job which they’ve worked so hard for.”

Some nonprofit workers believe the discussion is moot because Bush will never go through with the plan.

“I’d be happy if this plan happens,”said Lindsay Neil, the program director for the Roaring Fork Family Resource Center. “But I’m hesitant to believe it. Bush is going for re-election; he wants Latino votes. If he’s elected, will he stick to it?”

Tom Zieman, the director of the Catholic Charities of the Western Slope, which has strong ties to the valley’s Latino population, is also skeptical. He emphasizes that Bush’s proposal is far from becoming law.

“The Latino community is very excited about this news, but without congressional action, celebration is premature,” Zieman said.

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